What does the EC’s Digital Single Market Strategy really mean?
It is, I admit, one of my biggest pet peeves. I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed and someone posts a clip from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Let me be clear: I love that freaking show. More4 stopped showing it in 2011 and I can still feel fragments of my broken heart rattling in my chest.
But back to the video clip on Facebook.
Sometimes, just sometimes, I click on it, in the hopes that perhaps the gods of content blocking have wielded a mighty miracle. But no. The message is always the same:
This content is not available outside the United States.
The Daily Show is but a small example of the swaths of content that is inaccessible outside certain geographical areas, and it is the first thing I thought of when I heard of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy. The strategy is a set of 16 initiatives that aim to reduce geo-blocking for certain goods and services and increase consumer protection. Its raison d’etre, according the EC’s website, is “to tear down regulatory walls and finally move from 28 national markets to a single one.”
But what does those mean for my beloved Daily Show? Or, my selfish priorities aside, what will it mean for territorial licensing of music and video content? And what are the practical consumer implications for apps like BBC iPlayer, which aren’t accessible outside the UK? Or using big bad Amazon to buy goods from another EU country?
“Facilitate the licensing of rights for online distribution”
The strategy aims to impact on accessibility of paid content outside a user’s home country. “If you have legally paid for an online service while at home, you should be able to access it in another EU country,” reads the EC website. This means, for example, that a Netflix UK user will be able to access the Netflix UK catalogue in another EU country, even if territorial licensing for a specific film or TV show isn’t available in that country.
Consumers who are dedicated to watching content in spite of current restrictions have any number of workarounds to enable downloading their desired content. While some believe that the Strategy is moot to those who have already removed impediments to restricted content, the Vice President of the EC, Andrus Ansip, told his Midem audience that revenue opportunities in this area are being lost. His focus, wrote Adam Rendle of Taylor Wessing, “is to ‘follow the money’, particularly the $227m which is paid by companies to services which allow illegal downloads.”
“BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4, BBC5, BBC6, BBC7, BBC Heaven…”
As with the – ahem – majority of EU directives, there is little on offer on how existing companies and organisations should look to implement the new rules. Currently, BBC iPlayer content is automatically blocked outside the UK. The Strategy means that the BBC will have to make this content available to UK users when they are in another EU country. But how? It has to consider two options – make its content available across the EU, at the expense of the UK licence-fee payer, or construct a new platform by which UK licence-fee payers will need to log-on to iPlayer when in another EU country. This could fuel an already contentious debate over the existence of the mandatory UK licence fee.
Territorial licensing isn’t yet affected
Film fans shouldn’t rejoice: whilst the strategy aims to lift some geo-blocking restrictions on paid, available content, it makes concessions for the film industry. “The financing of the audiovisual sector widely relies on a system based on territorial exclusivity, which as such cannot be considered as unjustified geo-blocking,” it said. However, “if a film is available on a video-on demand service in an EU country, Europeans outside the country can also pay to see it. This is not about opening access to all content for free. It is about a win-win situation for creators and users; this is about nurturing cultural diversity in the digital age.”
And while we’ve already explored the EU clampdown on licensing and copyright infringement, this strategy makes clear that the EC is focusing on “commercial-scale infringements.” This is not to say they have washed their hands of the responsibility, but that they are considering having “intermediaries” (i.e. content hosts) to take greater responsibility. “The Commission will also analyse the need for new proposals to tackle illegal content on the Internet such as more rigorous procedures for removing illegal content and whether to require intermediaries to exercise greater responsibility and make more efforts in the way they manage their networks and systems – a duty of care.”
Buy from Amazon.dk with your Amazon.uk account
Of course, there is more to the Strategy than just licensing. The EC’s aim is too allow greater consumer access to goods across the EU, with better protection in place for faulty goods and facilitated returns. As Ansip told him Midem audience, “We have 28 relatively small markets and for small European companies it’s practically impossible to understand those 28 different regulations.” The Strategy aims to unite these markets.
Sadly for me, none of this means I’ll get to watch The Daily Show or any other US-based content. But any move by the European Commission to create a fairer digital environment for consumers and creators is to be applauded. How its implementation will play out until the 2016 deadline is to be watched closely.
Ed note: Alec Cameron of Telefonica will be talking about the legal rights and ramifications of content blocking in digital entertainment in his talk at Music 4.5: Converting Freemium.