The European Commission proposed a new regulation today (9 December) to allow residents of the EU to access legal digital content when they’re traveling outside the country they live in.
Today’s announcement is part of the Commission’s broader reform of EU copyright laws and the first legislative proposal to stem from the executive’s 16-point digital single market plans presented this May.
The current EU copyright law dates back to a 2001 directive.
Under the proposed new rules, Europeans would be able to use content they’ve paid for when they’re temporarily visiting other EU countries.
The law wouldn’t give expats a free pass to access subscriptions to services like Netflix for a longer period of time if they were bought in a different member state.
The Commission did not specify a time limit for how long Europeans could stay in another country and still be able to access online content as temporary visitors. Companies that sell digital content or subscriptions would be able to verify where consumers’ main residence is. Commission sources said only one country would be considered a valid place of residence.
Much of the copyright plans floated by Commission officials over the past few months was put off until spring 2016, when the executive will propose more legislation on access to television and radio online and on how news aggregating services can use copyrighted material.
Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger has spoken favourably of ancillary copyright laws that require services like Google News to pay news publishers if they link to or reproduce short snippets from copyrighted articles.
Commission sources confirmed they would look at the controversial Spanish and German ancillary copyright laws before proposing legislation next year.
Under the executive’s proposed rules, the regulation on content portability across EU borders will go into effect six months after it is approved by the European Parliament and Council.
Some representatives from the entertainment industry balked at the six-month implementation phase, and argued they’d need more time to review existing contracts.
The European Commission proposal would apply to already existing contracts held by copyright holders such as film and television production companies.
Some audiovisual companies are already adjusting their contracts.
The UK Premier League’s contracts for football broadcasts will include a clause on portability starting in the next football season, before the EU regulation is implemented.
Mathieu Moreuil, head of European public policy for the Premier League, said the Commission should clearly define how long a person can stay abroad and access content from their home country. But he added that the Commission’s proposal expected next year on cross-border access to broadcast material online is more concerning.
“The portability regulation is fine. But the European Commission should be aware that if they go beyond that we’d be very opposed,” Moreuil said.
Oettinger defended the executive’s proposal, in order to allow access to digital content only for short-term travellers within Europe and not for longer stays abroad.
“If you took no account of someone’s normal residence, then I could find examples in member states where pay-per-view or pay TV is cheapest for films and for sports. So I could acquire transmission rights in Malta for English football and that’s something that not all the stakeholders would be happy with,” Oettinger said.
Filmmakers and film industry associations have aggressively lobbied the Commission not to touch geoblocking, or the technical of access to material based on where someone is.
Yvon Thiec of Eurocinema, an association representing the French film industry, also criticised the Commission for not defining how long someone can temporarily be abroad and access content they paid for at home.
“We need to avoid that people staying somewhere longterm can be beneficiaries,” Thiec said.
“It’s too easy for people to misuse. It would destroy the principle of territoriality,” he added.
Other lobbyists called the Commission’s proposal toothless, and argued it wouldn’t do enough to lift restrictions hampering consumers’ ability to choose between services.
“Unfortunately, the new rules will not solve the problem that many Europeans are currently still unable to buy film or video subscriptions from another Member State,” said Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), adding that the Commission should end geoblocking.
Since offers differ between services that may be available in multiple EU member states, consumers would not be able to use the Belgian version of Netflix if they are living in Italy.
Some lobbyists argued that could cause users to turn to pirated material when they can’t find what they’re looking for through legal services.
“If they want content on Belgian Netflix, they can either find some of it on the pirated market, or use a virtual privacy network (VPN) and pretend to be in Belgium,” said Innocenzo Genna, chair of the innovation and grow committee dealing with copyright at Euroispa, the association representing European internet service providers.
“We’re talking about people who are willing to pay, not people who want to use pirated material,” Genna added.
The European Commission plans to make another announcement in spring 2016 about piracy. Officials said the executive wants an EU-wide voluntary ‘follow the money’ approach to tackle illegal content.