Thursday 20 October 2016

EU rules to let us watch our own TV abroad

Published 27/05/2016 | 02:30

Actress Robin Wright of House of Cards
Actress Robin Wright of House of Cards

Holidaymakers will soon be able to bring their cable TV sports and online movie subscriptions with them, according to new EU rules.

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Europe has told broadcasters such as Sky and Netflix that they must allow customers to access their paid-for subscriptions when travelling abroad in any of the EU's 28 countries.

The moves means that access to Premier League football matches, GAA games and Netflix television series must now be available wherever you go in Europe. At present, broadcasters use so-called geo-blocking technology to stop people accessing programmes in other countries. This means that someone in Ireland watching the latest season of the political drama 'House Of Cards' (pictured left) on Netflix can't continue to watch it when on holidays in Spain or Germany because it is not available to Netflix subscribers there due to copyright law.

Similarly, a Sky Sports subscriber who watches Premier League matches using Sky Go on a tablet or phone in Ireland is blocked from using it when abroad in Europe.

But the new EU law is set to force broadcasters and copyright holders to allow people bring their paid-for subscriptions with them.

Free subscriptions will also be included where a person is registered for that service.

It is not yet clear whether there will be a time limit on how long you can spend abroad while using the home services.

Netflix says that a percentage of its customers use free workarounds (called 'virtual private networks') to keep their computer's location from it, thereby avoiding the geo-blocking restrictions.

But EU authorities now say that the new rules are the first formal step in what could be more liberal laws on copyright enforcement throughout the continent. Eventually, say commissioners, Europe's single market must start to behave more like America's single market when it comes to accessing services online.

"Geo-blocking prevents consumers from accessing certain websites on the basis of their residence, or credit card details," said Europe's Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

"It is very difficult to explain this to the people and, at the same time, make the point that we are all residents of the EU and consumers in the same internal market."

The commission's initiative could ultimately result in movie companies and sports bodies being forced to change the way they license their programmes across the EU.

However, copyright holders say that geo-blocking is an important part of their business as it allows them to maximise revenues for expensively- produced content.


Organisations such as Uefa and the English Premier League are likely to resist any changes to current practices of content licensing according to specific countries.

But the softening of geo-blocking for EU travellers has been welcomed by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O'Connor. "This consumer-friendly measure is important for EU citizens as it will allow them to enjoy movies, premium sports and other content services to which they have legally subscribed while away from home," she said.

Earlier this week, the EU announced that it was to restrict geo-blocking for some elements of online shopping in the EU.

A new directive will prohibit online shops for charging different prices to shoppers from different countries, unless there are legitimate delivery or tax reasons for doing so. The move could hit cross-border retailers such as Apple and a large number of online clothes stores.

However, the new law won't force shops to sell abroad.

Irish Independent

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