Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Netflix Movies Without Frontiers Is EU's Vision for 2017

  • Online content should be accessible wherever customers travel
  • EU fights geo-blocking measures that restrict online content

Business travelers and tourists hopping across the European Union will no longer have to leave their subscriptions to services like Netflix Inc. or Sky Plc’s at home under EU proposals aimed at eroding barriers to digital content.

In the EU’s first legislative attack on a practice known as geo-blocking, customers should be allowed to continue watching their favorite shows wherever they travel in the 28-nation bloc, regardless of the country they’re in, according to European Commission plans unveiled Wednesday.

“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.

Geo-blocking is seen by lawmakers as an anachronism in the EU, which has long championed the free movement of workers and capital across its internal borders. While a mixed bag of copyright rules is one of the reasons companies give for blocking content in other countries, the EU’s competition arm is also examining whether Hollywood studios are unfairly restricting access to films and TV shows as a way to segment markets.

‘Piecemeal’ Approach

The commission’s approach is “piecemeal” and “will fail to properly dismantle digital borders,” said Julia Reda, a member of the European Parliament’s Green group, and a campaigner for harmonized copyright rules.

Although the proposals “will clearly benefit those who have subscriptions to providers like Sky or Netflix and want to use them while abroad,” she said geo-blocking remains an issue for those who need to access online content not offered in the country where they reside.

As Netflix has expanded into new territories and announced plans to be fully global by the end of 2016, it has also targeted global rights to TV shows and movies. It wants to offer the same movies and TV shows to customers worldwide. Many of these rights are currently sold territory-by-territory or regionally. 

Netflix said it will study the EU’s proposal and Sky said in a statement that “we will need to consider the plans in detail but we welcome anything that helps customers get even more value from their subscriptions.”

European consumers’ organization BEUC said further action to consign “geo-blocking in the EU to the dustbin of history” would also give users “less of a reason to turn to piracy.”

Ansip is targeting a 2017 start date for the proposed law -- which would also apply to content such as music, e-books or games -- once he gets the backing of EU governments and the European Parliament.

Fixing one of the banes of travelers and tourists is part of “an ambitious reform” to tear down digital barriers to Internet-based content across the EU and rein in Web companies’ market power, said Guenther Oettinger, the EU’s Digital Economy Commissioner.

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