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EU policy makers take first step towards addressing 'geo-blocking' concerns

EU broadcasting rules could be changed in an effort to ensure consumers can access more online content.25 Aug 2015

The European Commission is considering reforms that could result in the removal of geographical restrictions on broadcasters' online content. It has opened a review of the EU Satellite and Cable Directive and is seeking the view of industry on what reforms to the framework should look like.

"Digital technologies and the internet mean that we have access to more content and channels, including on-demand, from more providers, and not just from the TV or radio sets, but also from our phones, tablets and other smart devices," the Commission said. "Today, many broadcasters make programmes available online, for example through catch-up TV, and new forms of transmission (e.g. webcasting) or retransmission (e.g. simulcasting)."

"The Commission wants to assess, first, to what extent the Satellite and Cable Directive has improved consumers' cross-border access to broadcasting services in the internal market, and, also, what would be the impact of extending the Directive to TV and radio programmes provided over the internet, notably broadcasters' online services," it said.

The Satellite and Cable Directive sets rules on what broadcasters need to do to obtain the necessary copyright clearance to broadcast via satellite or through cable retransmissions. Separate rules apply to each form of broadcasting.

For satellite broadcasting, broadcasters are considered to only be communicating works of copyright to the public from one EU country, even though the broadcasts can be viewed elsewhere. According to the Directive, the EU country where this activity occurs is said to be the one where "the programme-carrying signals are introduced into an uninterrupted chain of communication leading to the satellite and down towards the earth".

This approach is known as the 'country of origin' principle. Copyright licensing agreements enabling this communication to the public should reflect "the actual audience, the potential audience and the language version", according to the Directive.

The Commission's consultation paper suggests it is considering applying the country of origin principle to internet broadcasts. It has asked for industry's views on what the impact would be if the law considered online content services to be communicated to the public from one country. Online content services delivered by broadcasters and other service providers could be considered in this way under an updated Directive, the Commission's consultation suggests.

The Commission's consultation is open until 16 November. It said it is also conducting a study into the Satellite and Cable Directive to assess its "functioning and relevance". The study will also look at "the legal and economic aspects of the evolving broadcasting landscape", it said, with the results set to be published in spring 2016.

The Commission identified unjustified 'geo-blocking' as one of the issues it wants to address in its digital strategy published earlier this year. Geo-blocking refers to restrictions placed on access to online services and content on a geographic basis.