What is new with geoblocking?
Geoblocking consists of geolocation technology, using a user’s IP address to identify where they live and where the request is coming from. When a website blocks you from accessing the website based on your location (blocking access across borders) this is what geoblocking contains.
Other forms of geoblocking include differing prices or conditions based on the customer’s location (across borders); refusal to deliver goods across borders and; not being able to download or purchase goods from abroad.
The EU believes this is restricting the free flow of goods and services within and across Member States. This not only goes against the EU’s Digital Single Market agenda, but also the EU’s internal market policy.
A form of geoblocking that you may have come across would be in the form of BBC iPlayer. The media service from the BBC will not work in another country due to geoblocking. However, Netflix has a different form of geoblocking, where you will have access to different content in different countries, essentially you will only be able to access the library in the country which you are located in. As such, geoblocking can be used to enforce national copyright laws.
However, geoblocking can be used to prevent citizens of one country which has imposed a super injunction on the publication of certain information from being able to access news reports in another country where the super injunction would not apply, to avoid contempt of court liability.
On 8 June 2017, the EU Council adopted new rules on cross-border portability of online content services in the internal marketthus, allowing consumers to access online content services they have paid for within one Member State across the EU. In terms of Netflix, you would be able to access the library from the Member State where you have subscribed and paid for the content, not the Member State in which you are travelling. This will improve competitiveness and encourage innovation across the online services platforms, attracting more consumers in the long term. Free to air services (such as the BBC and certain other public broadcasters) will have the option of benefitting from the regulation provided that they verify the country of residence of their subscribers, according to EU data protection rules. To avoid any potential abuses, service providers will verify the subscribers’ member state of residence through adequate measures that do not go beyond what is necessary in order to achieve the purpose of verifying their residence are allowed. Examples given by the European Parliament include: contracts for internet or telephone connection, customer payment details and IP addresses.
The EU’s geoblocking regulations will come into power in early 2018, meaning for example, citizens of one Member State will be able to access the same content on Netflix in another Member State.