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EU prepares easing of Netflix geoblocking

Wed 8 Feb 2017

The European Parliament is finalising legislation which will allow EU residents to access their paid subscriptions for online media – such as video streaming, games and music – whilst visiting other EU countries.

It’s a contention that came to a head last summer, when the European Commission accepted compromises offered by Paramount Studios which would stop content providers from using IP address information to restrict access to a user’s subscription content.

The new legislation applies to satellite as well as digital services, and also applies to both new and existing subscriptions. However, it will not apply to free streaming services such as YouTube, which has always practiced IP-based geoblocking on its video content.

According to the EU release, providers will have to take ‘reasonable and proportionate measures’ to ascertain the EU country of residence of the subscriber, which will allow the user access to the content catalogue of their home country when resident in another country.

The legislation may have an effect unique to Netflix accounts, since under certain deals Netflix allows a user to share their subscription with up to four other people, not all of whom need be resident in the origin country of the subscriber. Whether or not extra users based in other countries (particularly EU countries) will henceforth be directed to content from the subscriber’s own country is not clear.

The new legislation must now be approved formally by the EU’s Legal Affairs Committee, as well as the Council and Parliament.

Permissible methods of verifying the home country of the subscribed user are to include ‘checks on electronic identification’, address details, public tax information and IP addresses used.

The issue began to fulminate nearly a year ago, when Netflix began to maintain and enforce a blacklist of IP addresses associated with Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers, which prevented the relatively common practice of users accessing their home countries’ catalogues when visiting other countries.

The EU estimates that 49% of its users access (or seek to access) music, video and gaming content, and that they expect this access to continue across the European Union. Unlike Netflix, Amazon’s Prime service does not maintain an active blacklist of VPN IPs for this purpose, though it does block some of the better-used IPs.

Critics of Netflix’s 2016 restrictions have argued that access to a particular country’s catalogue should be based on the country of the user’s payment method, and that forcing users away from VPN IPs is a potential security risk for those seeking to protect their online privacy.


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