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Netflix escapes EU's new geoblocking ban

February 7, 2018

Charging European online shoppers different amounts depending on their location is set to become much more difficult in the EU. But streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are exempt from the decision.

The Netflix logo is pictured on a television in this illustration photograph taken in Encinitas, California,
Image: Reuters/M. Blake

The European Parliament voted 557 to 89 on Tuesday in favor of a regulation that bans "geoblocking" — the practice of restricting internet content to particular geographic locations — for most types of online content.

The move is set to widen access to many online services, including shopping and car rentals, within the European Union, where many companies continue to use geoblocking to restrict their content nationally. But copyrighted material, including video streaming platforms, computer games and e-books, are exempt, a decision Europe's primary consumer rights organizations has sharply criticized.

Read more: EU hopes to abolish Internet geoblocking

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What were the reactions?

  • Polish MEP Roza Thun from the center-right European People's Party said: “What we have achieved is that online shopping and shopping in the real world come closer and closer together, so that nobody can be discriminated against on the internet."
  • German MEP Julia Reda from the Greens said: "We have achieved a small step towards a European Single Market that does not discriminate according to residency."
  • German MEP Evelyne Gebhardt from the center-left Social Democrats said the Parliament's decision effectively abolished the "annoying and in many cases unjustified [practice of] geoblocking," which was "incompatible with the European idea."
  • The European Consumer Organization, BEUC, criticized the regulation for exempting copyrighted material and audio-visial content. "From the consumer's point of view, this makes no sense at all," said BEUC's Johannes Kleis.

Read more: Europe's public broadcasters struggle to compete in the digital world

How geoblocking works: In some cases, companies recognize an internet user's location and either block them from accessing the restricted content or redirect them to another website that permits their location. In others, companies block services to users that have an address or credit card registered in a restricted country. Restrictions allow companies to charge different prices depending on a consumer's location.

What is absent from the ban: The regulation does not require a company to deliver a physical product to all EU locations. It also exempts digital copyrighted content, including e-books, computer games and streaming services such as Netflix, and audio-visual content and transport services. The EU is however obliged to assess whether to lift these exemptions in 2020.

What happens next: EU member states must approve the Parliament's a decision before it takes effect. Approval is largely a formality, as member state officials discussed the new regulation with MEPs before Tuesday's vote took place. The ban is expected to enter force before the end of 2018.

Read more: Brussels presents package to reform digital economy

amp/aw (AFP, dpa)