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EU proposals would allow Europeans to take online content abroad

The European Commission has proposed allowing Europeans to take their online subscription services with them when they travel around the EU. 09 Dec 2015

The proposed regulation on the cross-border portability of online content services would allow EU residents travelling within the EU to continue to access digital content that they have purchased or subscribed to at home. It has been developed as part of the EU's digital single market strategy, the Commission said.

The Commission "wants to make sure that Europeans can access a wide legal offer of content, while ensuring that authors and other rights holders are better protected and fairly remunerated," it said.

More than 50% of Europeans access the internet using mobile devices, the Commission said. More than 30% of people who access films, TV series and other video services online pay to view them by subscribing to an online service or purchasing or renting them item by item, it said. When these people travel outside their home country, they cannot access this content, particularly films, series and sports broadcasts.

Under the proposed regulation, consumers will be able to access these services as though they are at home, the Commission said. Online content providers will be obliged to offer cross-border portability to subscribers who are "temporarily" outside their country, who have paid for a subscription or individual purchase, or who are using content legally without payment under a verification system that checks state of residence.

The proposed regulation is expected to come into effect at the same time as roaming charges are reformed across the EU in 2017, the Commission said.

Andrus Ansip, Commission vice-president for the digital single market said: "We want to ensure the portability of content across borders. People who legally buy content – films, books, football matches, TV series – must be able to carry it with them anywhere they go in Europe. This is a real change."

Günther Oettinger, commissioner for the digital economy and society said: "The regulation proposed today is the first step of an ambitious reform. I count on the co-legislators to make sure that portability becomes reality for European consumers by 2017 so that they can enjoy their favourite content also when they travel in the EU."

John McVay, chief executive of Pact, trade association for the UK's independent media companies, told Out-Law.com in an emailed statement that the association is keen to work with the Commission to ensure that the regulations work for both consumers and the industry. However, the current proposal "falls far short of that goal due to inadequate safeguards to prevent abuse and a lack of clarity in key concepts like the meaning of ‘temporary’."

"It is critical that portability is conditional on robust and effective authentication of consumers’ country of residence. We urge the EU institutions to address these issues as a matter of urgency," he said.

"Any intervention that undermines the ability to license on an exclusive territorial basis will lead to less investment in new productions and reduce the quality and range of content available to consumers," McVay said.

A BBC representative told the BBC news site that "we are interested in being able to allow UK licence-fee payers to access BBC iPlayer while they are on holiday in the EU, and welcome the European Commission proposing regulation to help make this possible."

"There are complex technical issues to resolve and aspects of the commission's proposal need clarification," the representative told the BBC.

Intellectual property expert Iain Connor of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com said: "While framed in terms of rewarding creativity and investment in creative content by offering a high level of protection, it is clear that the agenda is to give more rights to consumers which will inevitably mean fewer rights for the copyright holders."