This week has seen European Union lawmakers vote to ban the practice known as ‘geo-blocking’ across the European Union which could have significant consequences for consumers and businesses alike. Geo-blocking is a form of protection measure where access to a service or product is restricted based upon the user’s geographical location. It is most commonly associated with the use by online companies to restrict access to premium multimedia content on the internet depending upon where the user is attempting to gain access from. This may be for a number of reasons but can include copyright and licensing reasons.
The vote aims to ban all online retailers from treating considers differently depending upon where they live. They have also proposed to expand the law to include music streaming services such as Apple’s iTunes and Spotify.
The mandate was approved by MEPs who are members of the committee on internal trade and consumer protection and voted in favour by 31 votes to two, with one abstention. Three way talks will now begin with the EU Council and Commission with the aim of reaching an agreement on the final law. Talks will also have to begin with each seperate European Union nation too.
What Sort Of Companies Will This New Law Affect?
The new law when it comes into force will affect online retailers such as eBay, Zalando and Amazon that have separate offerings in different countries. It will also affect service providers too that are offered in a specific location such as car rental. Essentially, the new law will forbid the automatic re-routing of customers to their domestic website without their consent. For example, it will prevent music streaming services such as Spotify or iTunes from stopping a German customer buying a cheaper subscription in Croatia, if they have the required rights. The music industry however has not warmed to the new legislation, and have argued that by extending the geo-blocking ban to copyright protected material could lead to the pushing up of prices.
Comments From The European Union
Monique Goyens, the director of the European Consumer Organisation states:
“Consumers should be able to compare products from across the European Union and buy those best suited for their taste and wallet. It defies core EU principles when retailers refuse to sell a product or service to consumers just because they live abroad or use a foreign bank card. This must become a practice of the past.”
Roza Thun from the EU’s IMCO (internal trade and consumer protection committee) said:
“Our work aims at a gradual opening of the European market for consumers and for traders by giving them clear rules. Consumers will have better access to goods and services online and for traders it will be less burdensome to sell to consumers from different member states.”