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Copyright-protected works will not be subject to new EU rules on 'geo-blocking'

Online service providers in the EU will not face new obligations to make their copyrighted content available to customers to access when they are visiting other EU countries after proposed new EU laws were watered down.04 Dec 2017

A provisional agreement was reached last week between the EU's two law-making bodies, the European Parliament and the Estonian presidency of the Council of Ministers, on the wording of new laws that would ban 'geo-blocking'.

However in its statement the Council, which is made up of representatives from the governments of all EU member states, said the ban on geo-blocking provided for under the proposed new legislation would not apply to copyrighted works.

"The future regulation will prevent discrimination for consumers and companies on access to prices, sales or payment conditions when buying products and services in another EU country," the Council said.

"Services where the main feature is the provision of access to and use of copyright protected content, or the selling of copyright protected works in an intangible form, such as music streaming services, e-books, online games and software, will be excluded from the scope of the regulation. But this will be subject to a review by the Commission. Other services such as financial, audio-visual, transport, healthcare and social services will also be excluded," it said.

At the moment, online consumers are often blocked from accessing services they have already paid for when they go on holiday or on business to another EU country, sometimes as a result of licensing restrictions. These restrictions on access to content, on a geographic basis, are sometimes referred to as the practice of 'geo-blocking'.

The term also encapsulates circumstances where online consumers are blocked from accessing product offers in other countries by being re-routed back to a country-specific website or by being asked to buy using a local debit or credit card. Restrictions of this nature that cannot be justified will be barred under the new regulation, the Council said.

The new regulation will apply to general terms and conditions applied to the sale of goods, provision of electronically supplied services, and provision of "services received by the customer in the country where the trader operates", it said.

"The end of unjustified geo-blocking will greatly enlarge the choice available to citizens when shopping online and will give a major boost to e-commerce," said Kadri Simson, Estonia's minister of economic affairs and infrastructure. Estonia currently holds the presidency of the Council of Ministers.

The Council said that the proposed new regulation on geo-blocking is expected to be formally adopted by the Parliament and Council "within a few months". It is to take effect nine months after its publication in the Official Journal of the EU.