Member states agree to let subscribers use Netflix when they travel in the EU

The EU 28 agreed on a draft bill that will allow consumers to use digital subscriptions when they travel to other member states. [Esther Vargas/Flickr]

EU countries struck a deal on a draft bill that would allow subscribers to use digital media like Netflix when they travel to other member states. A handful of countries put up a fight.

National governments agreed yesterday (26 May) on a compromise bill that will let people use digital media that they access legally at home when they travel to another EU country. The agreement comes one day after the European Commission proposed another new audiovisual rule that will require video on-demand platforms like Netflix to carry at least 20% European media in their catalogues.

The Commission announced the so-called portability bill last December, as the first legislative proposal in its flagship digital single market plans.

A couple of countries, including France, Spain, Italy and Greece, pushed back against the bill and asked for a clear limit to the length of time people could remain in another country and still legally access media they’ve paid for.

Consumers back Commission on protecting digital subscriptions abroad

Consumer organisations are fighting with specific member states, including France, Italy, Spain and Greece, to limit access to subscriber content, such as films and music, when travelling abroad.

Those countries lost out: under the newly minted compromise deal, consumers can stay in another country for a “limited period of time”, but the national governments didn’t name the number of days.

The bill now heads to the Parliament, where MEPs are already thrashing through the details. French MEP Jean-Marie Cavada (ALDE) was named rapporteur in the Parliament’s Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee earlier this year, creating an upset among some lobbyists who feared he would follow the French government’s call to put a limit on how long consumers can access digital media outside the country they live in.

Last year, Cavada created a stir with controversial amendments to the European Parliament’s copyright report.

Parliament sources told that Cavada will suggest a definition of how long people can stay abroad that is different from the Commission and Council’s proposals altogether.

In his draft version of the bill, Cavada won’t set out any time limitation, but will instead ask companies to make sure their subscribers return to the country they live in at least three or four times a year.

Companies affected by the law, which include Netflix and broadcasters that provide online streams, will need to comply with “serious” measures to verify where subscribers live, according to the French MEP’s bill.

Cavada will publish his draft in July ahead of a JURI Committee vote planned for October, Parliament sources said.

Ansip fires back against member states' push to limit digital content portability

European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip rejected some member states’ proposal to limit the number of days of that digital content like Netflix can be accessed when Europeans are traveling in other EU countries.

The executive’s original proposal said the law would apply to anyone “temporarily present” in an EU country where they are not a resident.

Andrus Ansip, the Juncker Commission’s Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, is against limits that some member states demanded, and said that specifying a maximum number of days consumers could spend abroad would be a “red line” that he couldn’t accept.

Some broadcasters say tight rules that limit the number of days subscribers can access media when they’re abroad could be a headache for them to comply with. But Cavada’s proposal of checking subscribers’ residence a few times a year might not work at all, industry sources say—unless companies verify residence all the time.

Consumer groups are worried that companies may be required to verify subscribers’ residence in a way that is too invasive or complicated.

“It would be absurd to ask people for their bank account, or to check if their name is on an electoral roll, to verify a person’s identity when they log in from abroad,” said Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation.

European Commission wants Netflix to carry at least 20% European content

The European Commission will propose quotas on online video streaming services that require them to offer at least 20% European content.

The modernisation of copyright law is one of the priorities of Jean-Claude Juncker's presidency of the European Commission.

The Commission presented its 16-point digital single market strategy in May 2015. On 9 December, the executive proposed a new regulation to allow residents of the EU to access legal digital content when they’re traveling outside the country they live in.

Meanwhile, the Juncker Commission will unveil new proposals to update EU copyright law.

The executive's action plan has four main parts:

  • Widening online access to content across the EU, including in the light of the results of the review of the Satellite and Cable Directive;
  • Adapting exceptions to copyright rules to a digital and cross-border environment, focussing on exceptions which are key for the functioning of the digital single market and the pursuit of public policy objectives (such as those in the area of education, research - including text and data mining - and access to knowledge);
  • Creating a fair marketplace, including online intermediaries when they distribute copyright-protected content, such as news aggregating services.
  • Strengthening the enforcement system.

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