EU plans to let consumers access online subscriptions abroad

Proposals announced to make it easier to continue using online services overseas

The European Commission has announced proposals to make it easier for consumers to use their online subscriptions to services such as Netflix and Sky Sports, while abroad.

Most consumers are currently unable to watch movies or football matches when visiting another country due to a practice called “geo-blocking”, which stops users from accessing their subscriptions when outside of their country of residence.

The Commission said it wants to see an end to geo-blocking by bringing in pan-EU subscriptions to streaming services. The move would mean that consumers with subscriptions to online services in one Member State would be able to use them when overseas.

It has introduced a new regulation to enable cross-border “portability” of digital content, as well as a plan to modernise copyright law.


"We want to ensure the portability of content across borders. People who legally buy content - films, books, football matches, TV series - must be able to carry it with them anywhere they go in Europe. This is a real change, similar to what we did to end roaming charges," said Andrus Ansip, vice-president for the digital single market.

“Our aim is to widen people’s access to cultural content online and support creators. We want to strengthen European R&D, using technologies like text and data mining. The Digital Single Market is the blueprint for Europe claiming its place in the digital era, today we start making it a reality,” he added.

The commission said most copyright rules date back to 2001, meaning it is no longer relevant to an age in which many consumers access content such as music, film and games online.

The Commission is also looking into whether action is needed on online news aggregation services, such as Google News, which display brief snippets of articles.

A number of organisations have expressed concern that this will lead to a situation where individuals and companies would be forced to obtain a copyright licence before posting hyperlinks that include summaries of articles being linked to. The commission said however it has no plans to tax hyperlinks.

New rules to improve the protection of European consumers when shopping online and to help businesses sell across borders have also been proposed by the commission.

The commission said that removing barriers to contract law difference would benefit the European economy while also offering better protection to those who buy or rent goods or services online.

"Today's proposals will give confidence to consumers to buy across borders and offer simplification for businesses, especially SMEs, selling online across Europe. The internet has lifted technological barriers to a Digital Single Market; with the digital contracts proposals we want to lift legal barriers," said Vera Jourova, commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality.

“Harmonising contractual rights throughout the EU will facilitate the supply of both digital content and goods across Europe. Consumers will benefit from simple and modernised rules; businesses from more legal certainty, cheaper and easier ways to expand their activities. This in turn will bring more choice at competitive prices to consumers,” she added.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist