Online content providers that block access could fall foul of EU competition law
The European Commission has said that agreements between movie companies, sports bodies and broadcasters that prevent content being shown in certain countries may fall foul of European competition law.
The organisation published the results of a survey that showed up to three quarters of movies, TV series and sports events are geo-blocked as part of a carve-up between the EU’s 28 member states.
The Commission said that in some cases, this could breach European law.
The policy-making body is currently investigating whether geo-blocking prevents fair competition and distorts the market for physical and digital goods.
Digital geo-blocking typically occurs when an online film or sports event is blocked to users because of the country they are accessing it from.
“Not only does geo-blocking frequently prevent European consumers from buying goods and digital content online from another EU country, but some of that geo-blocking is the result of restrictions in agreements between suppliers and distributors,” said Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner in charge of competition policy.
“Where a non-dominant company decides unilaterally not to sell abroad, that is not an issue for competition law. But where geo-blocking occurs due to agreements, we need to take a close look whether there is anti-competitive behaviour, which can be addressed by EU competition tools.”
The Commission’s investigation could result in multinational TV and film producers, as well as major sports organisations and broadcasters, being forced to change the way they license content across the EU. It could also boost access to more film, TV and sports content for people in Ireland, particularly content blocked for anti-competitive reasons.
However, copyright holders say that geo-blocking is an important part of their commercial model as it allows them to control and maximise revenues for expensively-produced content. Organisations such as Uefa and the English Premier League are likely to resist any changes to current practices in licensing content using individual countries as market criteria.
The Commission said that a more detailed analysis of all findings from the ongoing ecommerce sector inquiry will be presented in a preliminary report due to be published for public consultation in mid-2016. That analysis “will not only cover geo-blocking but also any other potential competition concerns affecting European e-commerce markets”, said the Commission.
The final report is scheduled for the first quarter of 2017, the Commission said.