Travelers looking to unwind after a long day with a mini Netflix binge know these words all too well: “You cannot watch from this location.”
Countries around the world have individual, complicated contracts with online services, making it difficult for consumers to access some digital content when they travel. The European Union is striving to change this messy situation across its member states.
The EU has an ambitious idea for a digital single market—a goal that involves overhauling 28 countries’ copyright laws, digital regulations, and e-commerce industries to make the entire EU one giant domain for internet users. Today (Dec. 9), the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, announced the first prong of its massive plan.
Citizens all over Europe will be pleased. The commission has proposed unlocking online content—like Netflix, Spotify, and other subscriber services—so that it can be accessed across multiple countries, instead of being restricted to the user’s home country. “Cross-border portability” is essential to creating a uniform 28-country digital market, EU leaders say. It also spurs businesses and attracts new customers, they argue.
“People who legally buy content—films, books, football matches, TV series—must be able to carry it with them anywhere they go in Europe,” said Andrus Ansip, the European Commission’s vice president for the digital single market, in a release. “This is a real change, similar to what we did to end roaming charges.” The commission recently introduced new legislation to eliminate extra fees for EU citizens making calls in other EU countries.
The path to unlocking digital content won’t be easy, though.
For consumers’ movies and songs to play in 28 different countries, EU must dive deep into a tangled mess of copyright law. (See: the length of the EU’s fact sheet on copyright rules, for starters.) It also risks the wrath of media companies—many of which hate the idea of giving access to content in such wide swaths. And some countries may take issue with any changes. For example, the French government cares about protecting French culture so much that it wanted to tax smartphones as penance for the internet taking away revenue from French artists, and has disputed global trade agreements that involve cultural products.
The EU, though, is determined to see its vision through. It’s now awaiting approval for its proposal from the European parliament and the EU’s member states. If all goes well, EU citizens will be able to travel with their digital content in 2017.