EU Takes Aim at Geo-Blocking, Faces Off Against Hollywood

The European Union is taking on geo-blocking — the practice of restricting access to online content based on location — in a move that pits it against Hollywood studios 20th Century Fox, Disney, Warner Bros., NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures, as well as pay TV’s Sky. EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager says she will detail the EU’s concerns by the end of March. Joining the EU in its case is BEUC, the European consumer organization. Both groups are also looking at restrictions related to video games.

According to Bloomberg, “under EU principles, people in one part of the 28-nation bloc should be able to access goods and services elsewhere in the EU.”


The case’s outcome could also impact future laws over streaming video including services such as Netflix, by allowing people to use such services when they travel outside their own country, says BEUC legal officer Agustin Reyna. BEUC’s stance is that “so-called geo-blocking clauses are detrimental to consumers who cannot access” content in their own country.

Among those concerned about the upcoming ruling related to streaming video is the UK soccer’s Premier League, which sold English soccer broadcast rights for 5.1 billion pounds ($7.3 billion) for the seasons through 2018-2019. Premier League head of European public policy Mathieu Moreuil says that, without territorial arrangements “at least when it comes to cross-border access,” the result will be “less content and much more expensive rights.”

But the EU is focused on people who may want to view content sold in another country, not those who have tried to access content online that’s meant for users in another country, which impacts only “very limited number of Internet users” estimated at “8 percent of more than 26,000 people surveyed by the EU last year.”

Moreuil calls that an issue for expats; in Brussels, where the EU is based, one-third of the population (398,726 people) hold foreign nationalities.