The European Commission wants to give music downloads and TV series the same freedom of movement as the people that subscribe to them, as part of an overhaul of European copyright law.
The reform is a hobby-horse of Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip, an Estonian unhappy that he is unable to stream Estonian football matches when away from his home country.
Such geoblocking of online content is common in Europe. Television rights, films and songs are typically licensed on a country-by-country basis, and copyright holders often prevent people from downloading in one country content they have paid for in another.
However, Ansip and others at the Commission believe that if someone has paid in their home country for access to online content, they should be able to access it from anywhere in Europe. On Wednesday they proposed a new regulation to make that happen. If approved by the European Parliament and the Council, composed of representatives of the EU's 28 member states, this cross-border portability of content could become law across the EU in 2017.
Representatives of two of the main political groupings in the European Parliament immediately welcomed the proposal.
"Our copyright rules were written at a time when dial-up internet connections meant that even downloading music was a push. Clearly in the age of video streaming, they need a major update," said Bulgarian MEP Angel Dzhambazki, copyright expert for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.
Beyond the content portability project the Commission is considering a host of other initiatives to make it easier to license and distribute works across Europe.
On the legal side these include reviewing existing laws on satellite and cable TV distribution; providing mediation to help rights holders and distributors to agree licenses for such transmissions; developing "licensing hubs" to help creators license content across Europe, and creating catalogues of European films available for license.
The Commission also has more technical ideas for improving content portability, such as supporting the development of search tools for finding legal content online; promoting the use of standard identifiers of works that will both aid licensing and make search easier, and funding dubbing and subtitling initiatives.
Over a fifth of Europeans believe piracy is justified when content is not legally available in their country, according to Commission research, so licensing content across borders and making it as easy to find as torrent files could open up new markets for filmmakers and musicians.
Once Europeans have no such excuse for piracy, the Commission plans to tighten up enforcement of existing copyright laws, putting in place systems to help copyright holders and law enforcers to cut off the flow of money to businesses profiting from piracy. It will also look at how to make the processing of take-down notices for illegal content more efficient.
Ansip has backed away from plans to harmonize all copyright rules across the European Union, as there is insufficient support for such a move from national governments and rights holders.
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