Today in the European Parliament, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee voted on its opinion on a Commission proposal to reduce geoblocking of online TV and radio programmes.

I was originally in charge of drafting this opinion, but have decided to withdraw my name, since modifications adopted by a majority of EPP and S&D members render the measures all but toothless. Their negotiators, Pascal Arimont of the Belgian EPP and Virginie Rozière of the French S&D, have both worked to significantly reduce the effect this proposal will have on digital borders in Europe. This will be to the detriment of all those wanting to access content from broadcasters in other EU countries – particularly linguistic minorities, foreign language learners or long-term migrants. (Ironically, Mr. Arimont himself represents the German-speaking minority in Belgium.)

I consider it unacceptable for the Parliament to further limit an already unambitious Commission proposal and I remain committed to pushing for an end to the discriminatory and outdated practice of geoblocking.

The starting point of the IMCO committee opinion was a proposal by the European Commission to simplify the licensing of content put online by broadcasting organisations. Unfortunately, the Commission wanted that simplification to only apply to a very narrow selection of content:

  • It does not even attempt to improve cross-border access to video-on-demand services that are not run by broadcasting companies.
  • Even among the offerings of broadcasters, content produced for the web is excluded – only the streaming and replay of traditional TV or radio programmes would be eligible, as well as material “ancillary to the broadcast”, such as extended versions of interviews shown on TV. Disadvantaging content produced for the web like this is completely at odds with the development of the media sector.
  • Finally, the Commission wants to limit the time after the initial broadcast during which the simplified rules apply. Broadcasters would be allowed to show their TV programmes without geoblocking only for a couple of days or weeks, after which they would have to lock them away behind digital borders again. Even content with no commercial value after the initial broadcast, such as old news shows, would again become unavailable to Europeans who happen to find themselves in the wrong member state.

Incredibly, MEPs Arimont and Rozière have convinced a majority of their colleagues to limit this modest proposal even further. Here is a comparison of the original Commission proposal, the compromise proposal I put forward and the counter-proposal the committee adopted:

Commission proposal:

(a) “ancillary online service” means […] the provision to the public […] of radio or television programmes simultaneously with or for a defined period of time after their broadcast by the broadcasting organisation as well as of any material produced by or for the broadcasting organisation which is ancillary to such broadcast;

My compromise proposal:

(a) “ancillary online service” means […] the provision to the public […] of radio or television programmes simultaneously with, during, after or at the earliest one month before their broadcast by the broadcasting organisation as well as of any material licenced to it, as long as it is made available online for a defined period of time, or material produced or co-produced by or for the broadcasting organisation;

Counter-proposal by Mr. Arimont and Mrs. Rozière:
(a) “ancillary online service” means […] the provision to the public […] of radio or television programmes produced by or for the broadcasting organisation including co-productions at the earliest one month before, simultaneously with, during, or for a defined period of time after their broadcast by the broadcasting organisation as well as of any material produced or co-produced by or for the broadcasting organisation which is ancillary to such broadcast;

According to my proposal, television and radio programmes could benefit from the simplified licensing indefinitely. Also, additional material would not have to be directly related to an offline TV or radio programme. This approach was actively supported by the Greens, the Liberals (ALDE) and the Conservatives (ECR), as well as a minority of EPP and S&D members.

Instead, the majority of EPP and S&D members adopted the Arimont/Rozière text, which is even more limited than the original Commission proposal: Even parts of the traditional TV and radio programmes themselves would be excluded from the simplification of the cross-border rules. Only the broadcasters’ own productions would be eligible, but not other parts of their programmes such as movies or sports broadcasts. On its live stream, a broadcaster would need to keep switching geoblocking on and off depending on what is shown at any given time – amounting to no simplification at all. It may end up being easier for the broadcaster to just keep the entire programme blocked.

This is a very disappointing outcome for the IMCO committee, whose job is to look out for the interests of consumers. But it is not the end of the story. The committee with the final say on this issue is the Legal Affairs Committee, where the S&D’s Tiemo Woelken is leading the negotiations. As an active YouTuber, he will hopefully prove to be more attuned to the interests of Internet users, who don’t understand why politicians want to keep inner-European borders in place on the internet when we’ve largely abolished them in the physical world.

Next Tuesday, May 16, I will be going on Facebook Live for a Q&A session on the different measures the EU is debating to tackle geoblocking, and why they have so far failed to truly deliver on the promise to make error messages like “this video is not available in your country” a thing of the past.

If you want to help make that goal a reality, subscribe to my campaign to end geoblocking and tell your elected representatives what you think!

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My name is Julia, I'm the Pirate in the European Parliament.

I'm fighting to make copyright in the EU unified, progressive and fit for the future. Will you join me?

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