EU Votes Today On Content Portability to Reduce Piracy (Updated)

Members of the European Parliament will vote today on draft rules that would allow citizens to enjoy legally purchased music and movie streaming subscriptions when they travel to another EU country. It's hoped that improved access to content will help to dampen frustrations and reduce Internet piracy.

Being a fully-paid up customer of a streaming service such as Spotify or Netflix should be a painless experience, but for citizens of the EU, complexities exist.

Subscribers of Netflix, for example, have access to different libraries, depending on where they’re located. This means that a viewer in the Netherlands could begin watching a movie at home, travel to France for a weekend break, and find on arrival that the content he paid for is not available there.

A similar situation can arise with a UK citizen’s access to BBC’s iPlayer. While he has free access to the service he previously paid for while at home, travel to Spain for a week and access is denied, since the service believes he’s not entitled to view.

While the EU is fiercely protective of its aim to grant free movement to both people and goods, this clearly hasn’t always translated well to the digital domain. There are currently no explicit provisions under EU law which mandate cross-border portability of online content services.

Following a vote today, however, all that may change.

In a few hours time, Members of the European Parliament will vote on whether to introduce new ‘Cross-border portability’ rules (pdf), that will give citizens the freedom to enjoy their media wherever they are in the EU, without having to resort to piracy.

“If you live for instance in Germany but you go on holiday or visit your family or work in Spain, you will be able to access the services that you had in Germany in any other country in the Union, because the text covers the EU,” says Jean-Marie Cavada, the French ALDE member responsible for steering the new rules through Parliament.

But while freedom to receive content is the aim, there will be a number of restrictions in practice. While travelers to other EU countries will get access to the same content they would back home on the same range of devices, it will only be available on a temporary basis.

People traveling on a holiday, business, or study trip will enjoy the freedom to consume “for a limited period.” Extended stays will not be catered for under the new rules so as not to upset licensing arrangements already in place between rightsholders and service providers.

So how will the system work in practice?

At the moment, services like Netflix use the current IP address of the subscriber to determine where they are and therefore which regional library they’ll have access to when they sign in.

It appears that a future system would have to consider in which country the user signed up, before checking to ensure that the user trying to access the service in another EU country is the same person. That being said, if copyright holders agree, service providers can omit the verification process.

“The draft text to be voted on calls for safeguarding measures to be included in the regulation to ensure that the data and privacy of users are respected throughout the verification process,” European Parliament news said this week.

If adopted, the new rules would come into play during the first six months of 2018 and would apply to subscriptions already in place.

Separately, MEPs are also considering new rules on geo-blocking “to ensure that online sellers do not discriminate against consumers” because of where they live in the EU.

Update: The vote has passed. Here is the full statement by Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip.

I welcome today’s positive vote of the European Parliament on the portability of online content across borders, following the agreement reached between the European Parliament, Council and Commission at the beginning of the year.

I warmly thank the European Parliament rapporteur Jean-Marie Cavada for his work in achieving this and look forward to final approval by Member States in the coming weeks.

The rules voted today mean that, as of the beginning of next year, people who have subscribed to their favourite series, music and sports events at home will be able to enjoy them when they travel in the European Union.

Combined with the end of roaming charges, it means that watching films or listening to music while on holiday abroad will not bring any additional costs to people who use mobile networks.

This is an important step in breaking down barriers in the Digital Single Market.

We now need agreements on our other proposals to modernise EU copyright rules and ensure wider access to creative content across borders and fairer rules for creators. I rely on the European Parliament and Member States to make swift progress to make this happen.

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