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New geo-blocking rules take effect in the EU

New rules which prevent online sellers from restricting cross-border sales based on the nationality, residence or place of establishment of their customers have come into force across the EU.03 Dec 2018

The Geo-Blocking Regulation has direct effect across the EU, although each country is responsible for applying its own enforcement mechanisms.

Online consumers are often blocked from accessing offers in other countries by being re-routed back to a country-specific website or by being asked to buy goods or services using a local debit or credit card. However, EU law makers moved to prohibit unjustified geo-blocking, finalising the Geo-blocking Regulation in March.

The European Commission published guidance in September to explain how the new geo-blocking rules will apply in practice. It confirmed the rules can apply to certain business-to-business transactions, including in the context of cross-border cloud computing contracts.

In a statement, EU commissioners Andrus Ansip, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Věra Jourová and Mariya Gabriel, whose remits span a range from the digital single market, industry and entrepreneurship, consumers and the digital economy, said the new rules are aimed at delivering "a Europe without barriers".

"The new rules will enable consumers to have a wider choice of products at competitive prices and consequently better deals," the commissioners said. "At the same time businesses will see their customer base expand across borders and enjoy lower transaction and administrative costs."

The Commission said it will conduct a first review of the Geo-blocking Regulation by March 2020.

"This assessment will cover the possible extension of the non-discrimination principle in accessing goods and services to non-audiovisual electronically supplied services whose main feature is copyright protected content, such as e-books, music, games and software," it said.

In the UK, the Geo-Blocking (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 have also come into force. The new UK regulations confirm that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is responsible for the UK enforcement of the new rules. They also contain provision for customers to raise a claim against businesses where those companies breach certain provisions of the new geo-blocking rules relating to access to online interfaces, access to goods or services or non-discrimination for reasons related to payment, and where that breach results in the customer suffering loss or damage.