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Intellectual Property Office opens consultation on geo-blocking

By | Published on Monday 25 January 2016

IPO geo-blocking consultation

While for the music business the main priority in the ongoing European copyright review is good old ‘safe harbours’ – or, actually, ‘making available’ if you’re an artist – for most of the rest of the entertainment industry it’s all about geo-blocking. To that end the UK’s Intellectual Property Office has launched a public consultation on what it calls “cross-border portability”.

As previously reported, the European Commission is currently reviewing copyright rules across the European Union as part of its Digital Single Market initiative. When it published its priorities last month, a review of the so called ‘making available right’ was included, which is good news for artists who see this as a possible way of regaining some control over digital income. Meanwhile the review of safe harbours that the labels and publishers have been pushing for was simply alluded to in a paragraph about piracy.

Top of the agenda is the issue of most concern to the movie and TV sectors, but about which the music companies are slightly ambivalent. The European Commission wants consumers who sign up to digital content services in any one EU country to be able to access that service – and all the content that comes with it – in any other country in the Union. Basically so that a UK Netflix customer can continue to use the service and access the British catalogue of content wherever they may be in Europe, without having to employ a VPN to confuse the streaming service about their location.

The music industry has adopted pan-European licensing on a much bigger scale than the movie and TV industries, meaning that – while regional variation in catalogue does remain to an extent – meeting the kind of “cross-border portability” requirements the EU is seeking to make law won’t be too big a problem for labels and publishers.

Many movie and TV show producers, though, are critical of the proposals, and say that European politicians are exaggerating the scale of the problem, ie how many people are using a Netflix type service while travelling around Europe. To be fair, the EC’s proposals are unlikely to tackle the bigger frustration amongst video-on-demand customers: disparities between catalogues in different countries, and the time lag between release dates in different markets, especially for TV shows.

With geo-blocking atop the EC’s copyright agenda, the UK’s IPO last week invited all interested parties to input into the review. The government agency said: “The European Commission has recently published draft legislation that is intended to ensure that all digital services are portable within the European Union. This would mean that a person who lives in the UK, who subscribes to a digital content service there, would be able to continue to access that service when they are elsewhere in the EU”.

It added: “The government is seeking views on the draft legislation to ensure that they deliver the best outcome for businesses and consumers. We would welcome your views on the costs and benefits of these proposals and suggestions for how the language of the proposed regulation can be improved”.

Input should be sent to by 12 Feb.