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Here's why it's likely you STILL won't be able to watch BBC online in Ireland

The EU wants to overhaul digital markets, but a few key things are off the table.

Image: YouTube

GEOBLOCKING, THE SCOURGE of many online users, could soon be banished to the scrapheap. Sort of.

The EU today unveiled its digital single market strategy, which among other measures would spell the end of companies shutting off access to online content based on users’ member states.

That practice, known as geoblocking, means customers can be stopped from watching some streaming video services overseas or shunted to local versions of online stores where prices are higher than in other European countries.

The European Commission said it wants to produce laws in the first half of 2016 to tackle “unjustified” geoblocking, which had “no equivalent in the offline world”.

You are not refused a product on the basis of your nationality when you physically go to a shop in another member state,” it said.

Europe Google EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager Source: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

What’s on?

However when it comes to material like films and TV shows, any changes will come up against copyright hurdles which could mean some content still stays behind country-specific virtual walls.

Those blocks currently mean, for instance, that Irish users abroad in Europe are stopped from watching some RTÉ programmes online. Even viewers in Northern Ireland are prevented from watching certain shows and sporting events.

Similarly, BBC’s popular iPlayer users geoblocking to stop viewers from outside the UK watching all its programmes for free online.

Blocked Source: BBC

While the commission has said it wants to “modernise” copyright laws, the plan appears to only extend to making paid-for content like digital downloads and subscription services accessible in all countries.

It was unclear how the changes would apply to free content, with the commission noting that funding in some audiovisual sectors relied on “territorial exclusivity” – which didn’t fall under its banner of unjustified geoblocking.

Film companies, in particularly, have been lobbying against any rule changes that would harm their distribution deals for individual countries by taking away their ability to set different release dates.

EU Source: European Commission

Andrus Ansip, the commission’s vice president for the digital single market, has previously complained about not being able to watch the same football matches in Brussels he would have access to in his native Estonia.

But he has also said the commission didn’t plan to do away with the system of “territoriality” for some content like film releases until they became available as video-on-demand downloads.

I would like to ask for cross-border access to the content and portability of the content, but it does not mean that we are wanting to destroy this principle of territoriality,” he said.

EU Europe Digital Andrus Ansip Source: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

A commission spokeswoman told TheJournal.ie that increasing access to TV services streamed online and protected by copyright would be considered as part of the proposals.

Here are some other parts of the digital single market strategy:

  • Making cross-border e-commerce easier with uniform rules for contracts and consumer protection when shopping online
  • More efficient and affordable parcel delivery
  • A single VAT registration and payment system for online traders across the EU
  • An overhaul of telecoms rules to speed up rollout of 4G mobile networks
  • New protection regulations for personal data online

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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