Abolish geoblocking? Not so fast, says EU digital Commissioner

The EU needs to pay attention to the interests of the film industry, Commissioner Oettinger said

The European Commission last week announced it plans to eliminate geoblocking in order to let everyone in the European Union tune in to the same movies at the same time and allow more cross-border shopping. One of the EU's digital Commissioners, though, has spoken out against a fast reform.

Quickly abolishing barriers that prevent EU citizens from streaming movies or TV shows is not the way to go, said Günther Oettinger, commissioner for digital economy and society, in an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published on Monday.

"We must not throw the baby out with the bathwater," he told the newspaper, adding that he first wants to determine what the elimination of geoblocking will mean for the film industry. The EU needs to preserve its cultural diversity, he said, adding that he wants to make sure little parties will not suffer while big parties benefit.

With his statements, Oettinger, who heads the EU's copyright reform, distanced himself from Commission Vice President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip, who last week confessed that deep in his heart, he hates geoblocking.

Ansip on Wednesday unveiled plans by the Commission on how to proceed with the EU's Digital Single Market strategy. One of the key elements in that strategy is tackling geoblocking.

Showing the Commission will take the issue seriously, Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager on Thursday announced she is planning to start a competition inquiry into cross-border trading by companies such as Amazon.com, in particular into technical barriers such as geoblocking preventing EU consumers from shopping across borders.

Asked which of the two views reflects the view of the Commission as a whole, Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva on Monday was quick to point out that both Ansip and Oettinger mean to strike the right balance among different interests.

Ansip for instance has said that there could be exceptions, for instance when geoblocking is necessary to respect national laws such as those that forbid online gambling in certain countries.

The Commission wants to ban frequent excessive restrictions, though, and ensure the full portability of legally acquired content so that people are able to access the services they have paid for in their home country when they are abroad. That needs to be done while safeguarding the value of rights in the film sector, the Commission said

An impact assessment of the different options is being prepared to ensure the Commission's action will deliver the greatest economic and societal benefits, it added.

A more detailed strategy for the EU's Digital Single Market is set to be published in May.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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