Leaked EU Draft Reveals Geo-Blocking Can Stay For Video

Excitement over the European Commission's plans to abolish geo-blocking and filtering restrictions across EU member states is in jeopardy following the publication of a leaked draft. The 34-page document proposes exceptions for audio-visual content, meaning that services like Netflix would be excluded.

Consumers of audio-visual content – video in particular – are often granted access to different libraries of movies and TV shows depending on which country they’re accessing services from.

Netflix is a prime example. US customers get the best selection by far and even subscribers in various member states of Europe are restricted depending on their home country. This means that those traveling within the region can sometimes be denied access to content.

So-called “geo-blocking” is extremely unpopular with consumers who often go to some lengths, via the use of VPNs etc, to unblock content in other regions. However, last December a light appeared at the end of the tunnel when the European Commission published a proposal which would require streaming services to ban the practice as part of the EU’s wider copyright reforms.

“We want to ensure the portability of content across borders. People who legally buy content – films, books, football matches, TV series – must be able to carry it with them anywhere they go in Europe,” said Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market.

The proposals were generally well-received and after a report was published in March which further condemned widespread geo-blocking, it appeared that the European Commission was determined to move ahead with its plan.

However, a leaked document just published by Politico (subscription) reveals that the EC intends to propose exemptions for audio-visual services such as Netflix.

The revelation is tucked away on page 11 of the draft which states the following:

“The material scope of the proposal is aligned with that of Directive 2006/123/EC to the extent possible in order to ensure maximum legal certainty for traders and customers,” it reads.

“This means that, inter alia, non-economic services of general interest, transport services, audio-visual services, gambling activities, healthcare services and certain social services are excluded from the scope of this Regulation.”

Later, on page 18, the European Commission again references exemptions for services offering products that are subject to territorial licensing.

“Audio-visual services, including services the main feature of which is the provision of access to broadcasts of sports events and which are provided on the basis of exclusive territorial licenses, are therefore excluded from the scope of this Regulation,” the draft adds.

While the EC’s proposals are likely to be seen as a negative for consumers, copyright holders will be pleased that the prospect of having to rewrite their licensing agreements has disappeared into the distance.

It is believed that the European Commission will officially unveil these proposals during the next two weeks. Should they be made official they’re expected to come into force during 2017.

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