UK Gov Opens Consultation on Netflix-Style Geo-Blocking

The UK government has launched a public consultation on the EU's proposals to ban Netflix-style geo-blocking. The government says it wants its citizens to be able to access legally purchased content wherever they travel in the European Union and is now seeking input from copyright owners, ISPs and consumers.

During the past several days the issue of content geo-blocking has become a global hot potato after Netflix announced renewed efforts to thwart users who attempt to bypass its content-locking mechanisms.

Starting immediately, subscribers who attempt to access the Netflix service with a VPN or proxy in order to gain access to libraries in other regions will face additional roadblocks. The measures have been widely criticized by both VPN companies and consumers.

But while this kind of effort to protect copyright holders and licensing agreements is probably legal now, over in Europe a conflicting scenario is playing out via the European Commission.

Following the adoption last March of a new Digital Single Market Strategy which aims to improve consumer access to digital services and goods, the Commission presented plans to abolish geo-blocking and filtering restrictions across EU member states.

Describing geo-blocking as a “discriminatory practice used for commercial reasons” the Commission said that users should be allowed to access digital content services like Netflix all across Europe, no matter where they are.

In response to the Commission’s proposals the UK government has just launched a public consultation, aiming to gauge the public’s response to the idea of a geo-blocking ban in advance of any final decision by the EU.

“The European Commission has recently published draft legislation that is intended to ensure that all digital services are portable within the European Union,” the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) announced.

“This would mean that a person who lives in the UK, and who subscribes to a digital content service there, would be able to be confident they can continue to access that service when they are elsewhere in the EU, provided they have the right level of internet connection.”

The UK government itself is strongly in favor of the EU’s proposals and believes that both consumers and content providers will benefit from legislative change.

“The Government supports cross-border portability, and the Prime Minister welcomed these proposals on the day of their launch. We will now be working with other European partners to negotiate the detail of the Regulations so that they deliver the best outcome for businesses and consumers,” the IPO writes.

The proposals suggest changes to copyright law aimed at smoothing the way for providers such as Netflix to make subscriptions available in other EU countries by allowing them to apply the laws of the subscriber’s home territory.

“It is currently difficult to provide portability for some types of content because of territorial copyright agreements which govern where services can be accessed,” the IPO notes.

The government says that in advance of negotiations on the text between EU Members States it is seeking views from both businesses and consumers on the costs and benefits of the proposals, alongside suggestions of how the language of the legislation could be improved.

“In particular, we are seeking views from service providers, rights holder organizations, and consumers, in order to better understand how the proposals will affect them,” the IPO says.

The aim is to introduce content portability sometime in 2017 but those interested in contributing to the process need to be quick. The government’s consultation is effective immediately and will end on February 12, 2016.

Those interested in getting their voices heard can find further details here.

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