New EU Content Portability Laws Set for Enforcement on April 1st

Andrus Ansip, Vice President of the European Commission

The European Commission (EC) has confirmed that new laws on content portability, the ability for digital content to be shared across borders for EU countries, will come into force on April 1st. The new rules allow EU residents to access paid subscription services from their home countries while travelling elsewhere within the EU.

Specifically, broadcasters will now be able to distribute their content in EU countries where they don’t have a license, but on a very limited basis. The new regulations only apply to individuals who are temporarily abroad trying to access content from their home country, though the term ‘temporary’ is not defined within the regulation, and service providers will have leeway with how they define it.

The Commission believes that the changes will be beneficial for both consumers and distributors. “Citizens are at the core of all our digital initiatives. As of 1 April, wherever you are travelling to in the EU, you will no longer miss out on your favourite films, TV series, sports broadcasts, games or e-books, that you have digitally subscribed to at home,” says the Commission’s statement. “The rules will apply to paid-for services, but providers of free content may opt in. Providers of online content will also benefit from the new rules. They will no longer have to acquire licences for other territories where their subscribers are travelling to.”

The rules only apply to paid services, though free services can opt-in if they wish. While service providers are barred from charging more for portability, it may make their products more appealing to those who spend considerable amounts of time travelling, and who have previously been unable to access products they’ve paid for whilst they’re outside their home country.

While the changes are “another concrete step towards building a true Digital Single Market and a united European digital society, accessible for all our citizens and profitable for our businesses” according to the Commission’s statement, the EC has been pushing for much more comprehensive content portability regulations.

The past year has seen a protracted dispute play out between the Commission and the European Parliament over cross-border licensing rules. The Commission has been pushing for new laws which would allow broadcasters to distribute content across the whole EU once they’ve cleared rights within their own country, a notion unsurprisingly opposed by rights holders who would be unable to negotiate licenses on a country-by-country basis.

The European Parliament instead opted for a watered down version of this proposal, changing it to apply only to news and current affairs content, which MEPs passed last December. EC vice president Andrus Ansip said at the time that this would not be “the end of the story”, and that the Commission would continue to make its case as informal negotiations progressed.

While it struggles to pass more comprehensive reform though, the Commission does still view the April 1st changes as significant. “It is also estimated that at least 29 million people, or 5.7% of consumers in the EU, could make use of cross-border portability, and many more in the future – up to 72 million people by 2020,” says the Commission’s statement.

“In addition, almost 60% of young Europeans say that being able to travel with their subscriptions is an important factor in choosing to subscribe to online services. Making portability a reality addresses this concern, and in turn, will help service providers increase the numbers of subscribers.”

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