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EU law makers reach consensus on new rules to address 'geo-blocking'

Out-Law News | 09 Feb 2017 | 10:31 am | 1 min. read

Online service providers that charge consumers in the EU to access content such as music, TV shows, films and games will be required to ensure those consumers can access that content when they are temporarily present in another EU country, under new rules provisionally agreed on by EU law makers.

At the moment, online consumers are often blocked from accessing services they have already paid for when they go on holiday or on business to another EU country, sometimes as a result of licensing restrictions. These restrictions on access to content, on a geographic basis, are sometimes referred to as the practice of 'geo-blocking'.

The European Commission proposed a series of reforms aimed at tackling geo-blocking last year. Now, the Maltese presidency of the Council of Ministers, on behalf of EU member state governments, and European Parliament officials have "reached a provisional agreement" on new rules for cross-border portability of online content services.

The legislation requires to be formally adopted by the Council of Ministers and the Parliament before it can enter into force. The rules would apply to subscription online content purchased prior to the rules come into effect as well as subscriptions purchased afterwards, according to the European Parliament.

A statement issued by the Council of Ministers said: "The new measures will ensure equal access from abroad to content legally acquired or subscribed to in the country of residence when temporarily present in another member state such as for holidays, business trips or limited student stays. To avoid abuses, service providers will verify the subscribers' country of residence. The verifications will be carried out in compliance with the EU data protection rules."

According to the European Parliament's statement, online content service providers "will be required to inform customers of the verification methods used and take appropriate security measures to protect their data".

The European Commission welcomed the agreement and said the new rules "will fit to new ways Europeans enjoy cultural and entertainment content".

The Commission said: "In 2016, 64% of Europeans used the internet to play or download games, images, films or music. They did it increasingly through mobile devices. In a survey carried out in 2015, one in three Europeans wanted cross-border portability. For young people, this possibility is even more important. Half of people aged between 15 and 39 years old thought that portability and accessing the service they subscribe to when travelling in Europe is important. The future regulation will enable consumers to access their online content services when they travel in the EU the same way they access them at home."