Current EU online media rules 'simply not fair'

Written by Daniel Dalton on 13 March 2015 in Opinion
Opinion

The EU must 'move with the times' and allow people to access paid-for online content no matter where they are in the world, writes Daniel Dalton.

This month, one of the world’s biggest sporting events is taking place. With one match attracting 1.5 billion viewers, the cricket world cup brings people from all over the world together. 

Yet the majority of people in Europe are unaware that it is even taking place, as no broadcaster has bought the rights in continental Europe. This highlights a serious issue. There are thousands of cricket lovers in continental Europe who love the game but are unable to watch it.

Cricket aside, many consumers have seen the typical 'this content is not available in your country' message when trying to watch their favourite TV show, YouTube artist, sports team or film online when in another member state. 

Millions of British tourists travel to Spain every year but cannot access their favourite TV shows while there. The same applies of course to the millions of European citizens who are based in the UK. 

It is undoubtedly a problem that many people do not have the rights to access media from their own country, despite in many cases still paying for a home media subscription - including, I may add, the current cricket world cup.

Of course, in this ever globalised world, many of the most popular TV shows, films and sporting events are shown in almost every European country. However, consumers rightfully want to watch their favourite content in their own language. 

"It is our job to ensure consumers have the rights to legally utilise the advantages of modern technology so they can access the services they want"

In addition, in terms of sports rights, it is not just the event itself that people want to watch, but the whole package presented by their chosen broadcaster which includes commentators, presentation and analysis. 

Ultimately, the technology exists for EU tourists, businessmen, expats and others to watch what they want, wherever they are located and in their own language. It is our job to ensure consumers have the rights to legally utilise the advantages of modern technology so they can access the services they want. 

Language arguably acts as the biggest barrier between member states, so this issue is not just about giving people more rights to access media content abroad, but also about giving people greater rights to access content in their own language wherever they are within the EU. This is a vital part of maintaining cultural diversity.

It is simply not fair to pay for a service and then have it blocked or be forced to use it in a different language when in a different EU country. This territorial fragmentation of media services is far more than just a nuisance for the millions of holidaymakers and others who frequently travel within Europe. 

It is unfair, goes against the principles of the internal market and is many years out of date. In the past few years alone, we have seen a significant rise online media, primarily through the use of smartphones and tablets. Only five years ago, in the UK, eBooks made up five per cent of total publishing revenue. Today, that stands at over 50 per cent. In a decade's time, it is highly likely that most services we use will be accessed through the internet.

We must therefore tackle this problem now. In recent years, we have seen a significant reduction in roaming costs as a result of the EU working with mobile phone operators to cut phone bills. This issue is similar. 

Imagine if your mobile was cut off when you cross a border because you have not bought a sim card in the new country. Consumers would rightly be angry, yet this is exactly what happens with online digital products and it affects millions of people. 

Some argue that pan-European rights are a potential solution. I do not agree with this, as it could lead to extremely complex rights deals, would reduce the amount of content available in many countries and would concentrate power in the hands of a few big and extremely powerful rights holders. 

In addition, any move towards pan-EU rights deals would be extremely lengthy. Instead, we already have the tools to work on fixing this now and industry needs to get on board, particularly as the case law suggests that products bought for private use should have full portability.

It is important Europe and industry moves with the times and helps to facilitate consumer freedom. This is an opportunity to seize the initiative, is in the interest of all member states and would give more rights to people across the continent on an issue which affects them on a daily basis.

About the author

Daniel Dalton (ECR, UK) is a member of parliament's internal market and consumer protection committee

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