Greetings from Brussels!
This week saw a significant political development here in Brussels for what concerns the future of the Digital Single market (DSM). European Union lawmakers moved to ban online stores’ and services’ use of geo-blocking against EU citizens. The new MEP vote extended the reach of the intended ban, which will now include copyright-protected digital goods such as music, games, software, and books. MEPs in the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee approved the geo-blocking rules Tuesday, which could open access to music streaming sites and e-book sales across the EU, extending the reach of the European Commission’s initial proposal, potentially setting up a fight with industry groups.
Andrus Ansip, the EC vice-president in charge of digital policies, proposed a softer approach last year that did not change rules on online cross-border access to copyrighted content, but only required e-commerce websites to sell cross-border within the EU. Moreover, it is known that EU member states favor excluding copyright-protected services from the geo-blocking ban. We are still some way off the fullness of the proposed ban becoming reality, as before it can become EU law the European Parliament will need to enter negotiations with the EU member states to reach a deal on the proposal: That’s something which may well prove tricky; there may be trouble ahead.
The proposal, which will apply to e-commerce websites such as Amazon, Zalando, and eBay, as well as to services provided in a specific location like car rental and hotel bookings, aims to forbid online retailers from automatically re-routing customers to their domestic website without their consent. Naturally there is some opposition from multinational sellers, who often tailor their prices for specific regions and countries. Broadly speaking, the intended purpose of the ban is to help European consumers take advantage of better prices for services on websites in other countries that may have previously re-routed consumers to their local version of a given company website. Although conversely, some in industry would argue — particularly in what concerns copyright protected content — that the very opposite might happen in cheaper countries, with increases in prices for services.
Notably, audiovisual services (including broadcasts of sports events provided on the basis of exclusive territorial licenses) are not covered by the legislation, nor are financial, transport, or health care services. However, the intention is for the European Commission to assess within three years of the law's entry into force whether they should be covered in the future. The EP committee's vote gives its negotiating team a mandate to start three-way talks (trilogues) with the Council and the Commission, with a view to reaching an agreement on the final law.
Implementing the anti-geo-blocking law has been a priority for the European Commission in its pursuit of an enhanced and seamless single market across Europe. If you’ll recall from previous MD Notes, the anti-geo-blocking stance was one of the EC’s top political objectives of the DSM strategy, so that individuals and businesses can access and exercise online activities “under conditions of fair competition, with a high level of consumer and personal data protection, irrespective of their nationality or place of residence.” And there lies the correlation with the pending GDPR. It seems fairly self-evident that an equal playing field in both data protection and consumer rights will go a long way to supporting and stimulating the digital freedoms intended with this eventual law.
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