The European Parliament has voted to end unjustified barriers to cross-border online shopping in the European Union but this will not extend to digital copyright material, including services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, for the moment.
The European Parliament voted by 557 to 89 for a regulation to ban “geoblocking” or restricting online services to particular geographic locations.
It followed a political agreement reached in November 2017. The regulation is expected to come into force in late 2018, when it will be binding on European Union member states.
“Banning unjustified geoblocking is great news for consumers in Europe,” said Andrus Ansip, the vice-president of European Commission, and former prime minister of Estonia, in a joint statement. “Thanks to the European Parliament, another building block of the Digital Single Market has been put in place delivering concrete benefits to citizens and businesses. It is a great step forward for e-commerce in Europe.”
Buyers will be able to shop online in the European Union without being blocked or automatically re-routed.
Traders will have to treat cross-border shoppers in the same way as local ones and offer them the same prices and conditions.
This will apply to physical goods, with some provisos, to services supplied in a physical location, and to services supplied electronically but not protected by copyright, such as some cloud services.
However, it will not apply to digital copyrighted content, including e-books, downloadable music, online games, or video services. This followed intensive lobbying by rights holders who opposed such a move.
Specifically, the regulation states it “shall not affect the rules applicable in the field of copyright and neighbouring rights”.
The European Union Commission will assess within two years after the regulation enters into force and every five years after that, whether the ban on geo-blocking should be widened to include such material.
It will have to assess whether the regulation should also apply to electronically supplied services intended to access to and use of copyright protected works or other protected subject matter, including the selling of copyright protected works or protected subject matter in an intangible form, provided that the trader has the requisite rights for the relevant territories.
The United Kingdom is meanwhile pursuing the process of leaving the European Union. Quite what this means for digital media distribution remains open for negotiation and debate.