The term “geo-blocking” refers to a technique used on the internet to block online content regionally by the provider. Geo-blocking thus means that, for example, copyrighted films or music videos cannot be accessed across borders and regardless of location.
Pirates advocate the complete abolition of geo-blocking within the EU
The Pirates have been calling for the abolition of geo-blocking for copyrighted content since the last term. Based on the feedback we’ve received from signatories of the end-geo-blocking campaign, civil society, or citizens launching the ECI on Minority Safe Pack this is one of the area where the demand is definitely very strong. And we believe that during the covid-19 lockdown, this demand might have even more increased.
What are the arguments against geo-blocking?
- Geo-blocking means discrimination: Linguistic minorities, long-term migrants, exchange students, etc. rely on being able to access online content across countries. One in ten Europeans is denied access to their culture online.
- Geo-blocking locks in artists: Many artists’ works are denied a Europe-wide audience – and fans ready to pay are turned away.
- Geo-blocking locks out audiences: Language learners, foreign sports league fans etc. are forced to pay VPNs instead of creators, or seek out illegal sources.
- Geo-blocking betrays EU principles: The EU is supposed to be a single market. Geo-blocking undermines that. The EU must act – like it did on roaming.
- Geo-blocking harms the economy: Up to 1.6 billion Euros worth of cross-border demand is kept from EU Video-on-Demand platforms, EU startups and artists
What are the arguments for the use of geo-blocking within the EU and which lobbies are campaigning for its retention?
The lobby from well-established industries, who tried to gain a momentum in order to develop their own Netflix like business. One of the arguments relates to investment in creation. Distribution of AVMS content is largely based on territorial and exclusive licensing to raise production financing. At EU level the EU tried to overcome these issues by encouraging further copyright harmonization, investment in European works including by companies from third countries, and EU funds.
However, it seems that geo-blocking does not always result from exclusive licensing to raise funds, but in certain cases it’s clearly a result of commercial practices that segment the single Market along national border. See COM evaluation report on the first short-term review of the Geo-blocking Regulation which for instance refers to Case AT.40023 – Cross-border access to pay-tv.
Abolition of geo-blocking – realistic or dreams of the future?
The prospects of abolishing geo-blocking soon are improving. In the original regulation the EP already insisted to have a review clause that includes copyrighted content and commitment from the Commission. Recently the Commission itself even concluded in its interim report that there would be potential benefits for abolishing geo-blocking for audiovisual media services. So, there’s definitely a positive momentum. MEPs in various committees showed interest in tackling geo-blocking for instance JURI, CULT, IMCO. In CULT they had an exchange with representatives of the European Citizen Initiative called “Minority Safe Pack”. The IMCO committee even adopted an oral question that aims at understanding the Commission’s next step on the subject, including a potential revision of the legislation.