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Government consults on EU regulation to remove geofencing from streaming services

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has launched a consultation on its implementation of the EU Portability Regulation, which is intended to stop paid streaming services geofencing their services.

Coming into effect on the 1st April, the Regulation will require streaming services to allow EU-based subscribers to access paid-for content (like Netflix or BT Sport) while temporarily in another Member State; for example, when on holiday.

Only paid-for content will be affected by the Regulation; free services and those tied to the payment of licence fees (such as the BBC iPlayer) will be able to offer this service but are not required to.

The EU has declared that no additional charges can be imposed to provide the portability, and providers cannot purposefully decrease the quality of their service while consumers are in another Member State.

Today, many paid-for services are geofenced, meaning that they can only be accessed when in a specific geographic area;  they can be fooled, such as by using a VPN, but these often affect quality.

Geofencing is normally used so that services can comply with certain territorial agreements on the use of copyright-protected content. The Portability Regulation contains several safeguards to ensure that copyright is protected; for example, providers have to verify their subscribers’ residence in a Member State to ensure that they can receive content.

Another way of getting around copyright laws is the adoption of a ‘legal fiction’, where a service is accepted to have been provided and accessed in the subscriber’s home Member State, rather than the Member State that they are actually in.

The Government is particularly interested in hearing from businesses with regards to the Portability Regulation and Brexit. It is currently undecided whether this is a regulation that will be adopted as an equivalent measure after the UK leaves the European Union.

The IPO’s consultation intends to make sure that the Regulation is enforceable under UK law. It will be closed on the 31st January.

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