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Online Content Without Borders?

The Cross-Border Portability of Online Content Within the EU

In the past, when we subscribed to online content and travelled to a different country, we would often find that the content we enjoyed accessing at home was blocked. However, new rules introduced in 2018 by the European Union aimed to put an end to this. In this article we take a look at the rules and wonder what this means for us as consumers.

In 2018, the number of EU households with internet access was 89%, a 29% rise in the last 10 years, with most internet users using the internet daily for both work-related and personal activities. 60% of users regularly bough goods or services online. Only 11% of EU citizens had never used the internet before!

Up until 2018 online content was often blocked when people travelled abroad. However, it was felt that technological developments and the growing use of portable devices such as tablets and smartphones had created a greater number of subscriptions to online content services, which users increasingly wanted to access not only in their home country but also when travelling or temporarily staying in another Member State.

Then, the EU introduced new rules in an attempt to broaden access to online content, with the Portability Regulation. These rules required all paid content online providers- providers that users pay to subscribe to- to offer portability to their subscribers. If service providers made their online services available for free, they also had the option to provide portability to their subscribers under the rules.

The rules mean that everyone who has paid for the right to access content online by watching, listening or reading, should be allowed to do so in any other EU country as if they were at home.

What are the rules?

Providers of free-of-charge online content services have the option of providing portability to their subscribers, while paid-for providers must do so. Subscribers should be able to use their subscriptions and access content they have purchased or rented on the same range of devices, and with the same range of functionalities, when they travel in the EU or are temporarily present there. The example given by EU officials is that a UK TV Channel should give its UK subscribers access to these services when they are on holiday in the EU.

This applies to all online content services- anything from audio-visual, music, e-book or sporting services. Online service providers such as Netflix can verify a subscriber’s country of residence using “effective and reasonable” measures with information linked to their habitual residence such as their payment details, public tax information, their internet contract, postal address details, or their IP address. In fact, users now have the right to demand that online service providers put these adequate measures in place to verify their habitual residence.

When checking this information service providers must equally ensure that any processing of personal data is proportionate and introduce safeguards, especially for any IP address checks.

Users who are accessing the content in a different place than their home country of subscription must only be in this different place for a limited period of time. This was something which caused concern for some content providers. They worried that wording of the rules, allowing people who were travelling “or of temporary residence”, meant that it would be difficult to distinguish between what was habitual residence and what was temporary residence using the verification methods that were allowed. The EU clarified that what was meant was that the citizen was there for a limited period of time, covering situations such as leisure, business, or learning.

Not only were the new rules fairer and more attractive to EU citizens subscribing to online content, it was also hoped that the rules could discourage online piracy by promoting access to legally acquired content rather than forcing users to use pirated content to access the services they normally could.

The Bigger Picture: Europe Without Data Borders?

These new portability rules came at a time where other rules were being introduced to streamline EU online services. New roaming rules had just entered into force one year earlier, with the EU ruling that EU citizens who travel within the EU should be able to call, text and connect on their mobile devices for the same price that they pay at home, which meant that access to data was doubled.

Then, at the end of 2018, it was ruled that there should be no more geo-blocking or country redirects when it came to online shopping. This stopped online shops placing restrictions based on nationality, place of residence or place of connection and obliged retailers to give people access to goods and services on the same terms all over the EU, regardless of where they connected from.

What Do You Think?

The EU recently conducted a study into the portability of online content one year on since the rules came into force. They concluded that an increasing amount of people had a subscription to online content services (49%), and a large amount of them knew that they should be able to access these services in different EU countries (68%), and nearly half of these people had tried this portability out to their satisfaction.

What do you think? Has the ability to access online content throughout the EU been something you have noticed, and does it stop you accessing pirated materials online? Do you think all online content providers are following the rules correctly? Do you want content without borders? Let us know!

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