‘Significant concern’ over EC copyright reforms

European Commission plans to allow consumers to access content acquired in one territory to access it in others are of “significant concern” to the international TV industry, according to a key production body.

JohnMcVay_NewThe EC will today officially reveal its wide-ranging Digital Single Market proposals, which will allow consumers to access content acquired in one territory to access it in others, with these expected to be sworn into law by 2017.

“The Commission’s proposals to mandate cross border access to digital content remain a significant concern for producers, distributors and broadcasters of film and TV content in the UK and across the EU,” said John McVay, CEO of UK producers’ body PACT.

“Any intervention that undermines the ability to license on an exclusive territorial basis will lead to less investment in new productions and reduce the quality and range of content available to consumers.”

The changes would effectively tear down barriers that stop consumers accessing content acquired in one territory in another. Those effected most by the changes would be mid-sized distributors selling film and TV rights to buyers in individual territories under geo-blocked agreements.

Europe’s film and television industries have repeatedly warned that such changes could end the concept of territory selling, which underpins both industries.

“The UK is home to the most commercially successful film and television sector in Europe,” said McVay. “The sector is highly innovative and responsive to consumer demand; already providing services enabling portability of films and television programmes, with further developments underway.

“We want to continue to work with the EU institutions to ensure the proposed Regulation for portability works for both consumers and industry. Unfortunately, the current proposal falls far short of that goal due to inadequate safeguards to prevent abuse and a lack of clarity in key concepts like the meaning of ‘temporary’.

With plans to end mobile roaming charges also in the works and net neutrality rules recently agreed, consumers could soon be able to access fast and affordable streamed programming wherever they are in Europe.

“Seven months ago, we promised fast delivery of the Digital Single Market. Today we present our first proposals,” said Andrus Ansip, EC VP for the Digital Single Market in a statement.

“We want to ensure the portability of content across borders. People who legally buy content – films, books, football matches, TV series – must be able to carry it with them anywhere they go in Europe.”

The EC has previously said it did not plan to enforce pan-European content licensing as part of the DSM proposals, saying that a “a degree of territoriality” could be maintained even as portability of rights expands.

However, today’s announcement throws up questions how these two opposing positions can work in tandem.

“The communication is mostly about weakening exclusive rights and reducing contractual freedom through the steady erosion of copyright territoriality and the imposition of pan-EU exceptions,” said Ted Shapiro, IP partner and head of Brussels at law firm Wiggin.

“While the communication contains some promise of reform concerning the role of intermediaries and enforcement tools, useful solutions in this space will require compromise and difficult choices for rightholders and other stakeholders.”

“It is critical that portability is conditional on robust and effective authentication of consumers’ country of residence,” added McVay. “We urge the EU institutions to address these issues as a matter of urgency.”

One potential winner from the new regulations are SVOD platforms, whose services would seem more attractive to potential subscribers if they work anywhere in Europe.

A Netflix spokesman said in a statement: “We’re committed to providing Netflix members with great programming wherever they are and are studying the EU’s proposal.”

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