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E.U. Agrees to Cross-Border Access to Streaming Services

So-called ‘portability’ rules the first piece in the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy, and the least contentious

BERLIN – Putting in place the first piece of its hoped-for unified digital market, the European Union agreed Tuesday on new rules allowing subscribers of online services in one E.U. country access to them while traveling in another.

The new “portability” ruling is the first step of regulation under a drive by the European Commission to introduce a single digital market in Europe. Announced in May 2015 on the cusp of the Cannes Film Festival, the proposed Digital Single Market was met with full-throated opposition from Europe’s movie and TV l industry, which viewed it as a threat to its territory-by-territory licensing of movies and TV shows. They were especially concerned by the DSM’s support for cross-border access, whereby people in the E.U. would be free to buy content situated on other countries’ digital platforms.

Hollywood studios, represented by the Motion Picture Assn. of America, share the European industry’s concerns about DSM.

That said, “portability” is the least contentious of DSM regulations being advanced by the European Commission. Reached yesterday, the agreement between the Commission, the E.U.’s executive arm, the European Parliament and the E.U.’s Council of Ministers, representing its 28 member states, will allow consumers to fully use their online subscriptions to films, sports events, e-books, video games or music services when traveling within the E.U.

The online service providers who will be mandated to make these services available range from video-on-demand platforms (Netflix, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, Mubi, Chili TV) to online TV services (Viasat’s Viaplay, Sky’s Now TV, Voyo), music streaming services (Spotify, Deezer, Google Music) and game online marketplaces (Steam, Origin).

In practical terms, this means, in an example cited by the Commission, that if a French consumer subscribes to Canal Plus’ film and series online services, the user will be able to access films and series available in France when on holiday in Croatia or a business trip in Denmark.

The online service providers will have nine months to adapt to the new rules, which means will come into force by the beginning of 2018.
Portability can be seen as a political victory for Andrus Ansip the European Commission vice-president in charge of the Digital Single Market who launched the Commission’s plans for a Digital Single Market.

“This is a new important step in breaking down barriers in the Digital Single Market,” Ansip said in a statement.

He added; ”Agreements are now needed on our other proposals to modernise E.U. copyright rules and ensure a wider access to creative content across borders. I count on the European Parliament and Member States to make it happen.”

That looks like a reference to the overhaul of copyright announced mid-September which, at least in the European Commission proposal, would see the “country of origin” principle currently in place for cable and satellite programming extended to broadcasters’ online services. In other words, if a broadcaster is licensed to serve one jurisdiction in the E.U. with an online service, they would be authorized to serve that online service to all E.U. member states.

Europe’s industries, supported by the MPAA, see this as a far more serious threat to the territory-by-territory licensing of their movies and TV shows which is the backbone of their business in Europe.

They are already fighting tooth and nail to ensure that safeguards to territorial licensing are included in any future new copyright regulation. The likely subject of speeches and round-table debate, this battle over new “country of origin” rules is indeed likely to form one of the major narratives of this year’s Berlin Film Festival, which  kicks off Thursday in the German capital.

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