People will be able to access their online television and movie subscriptions when they roam across borders within the European Union. New rules will only apply to online fee-based services, but providers of free services can optionally make their content portable across the European Union. So what, if anything, does this mean for services in the United Kingdom, which is planning to leave the European Union?
The European Parliament has passed the ruling, which has to be approved by the Council of Ministers. Member states will then have nine months to enable the regulation.
The move is intended to support a common digital market within the European Union. The new rules will allow people with a subscription to online services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Spotify in their country of residence to use them in another country that is a member of the European Union.
In practice, many such services already operate internationally, but this could have implications for those that only have rights for specific territories particularly for sports.
Service providers may take “effective and reasonable” measures to verify that the subscriber has not permanently moved to another European Union country as required copyright licenses may differ between countries.
Possible verification methods include identity cards, payment details, public tax information, postal address details or internet address checks.
Although the new rules only apply to online fee-based services, providers of free services will have the option to allow roaming across the European Union, provided they comply with the requirements relating to residency checks.
This could apply not only to online services like NOW TV from Sky but also those of broadcasters like the BBC and ITV, who currently geo-restrict access for rights reasons.
Except, of course, the United Kingdom is planning to exit the European Union. So where this will end up is just one of many uncertainties about the outcome of so-called Brexit.
Many major media companies have their European base in London and operate across the continent. Whatever Brexit means, it remains unclear, even to lawyers, what the implications of this and other single digital market initiatives will be for companies and consumers in the United Kingdom.
The Association of Commercial Television in Europe, ACT, welcomed cross-border content portability, suggesting that it addressed the majority of demand for cross-border access. However, it remains opposed to proposals for satellite and cable regulation, which would apply the country of origin principle to some online transmissions.