Lonely Pirate cheers on Big Copyright-bashing EU commissars

We don't need geoblocking, shrieks party's sole MEP

The EU's sole Pirate Party MEP has welcomed rumours that the European Commission is to get tough with big Hollywood firms’ geo-blocking activities.

According to a Bloomberg report the EU's competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, is set to send a so-called “statement of objections” to US movie studios 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Sony Pictures, Paramount and NBCUniversal, and to national TV broadcasters such as Sky as soon as next month.

“Commissioner Vestager is to be congratulated for tackling this issue that is causing the discrimination of millions of Europeans based on their place of residency,” said Julia Reda, the only pirate in the European Parliament.

The big film studios do deals with national broadcasters that limit, by country, where films can be broadcast. The companies could face charges that their licensing agreements restrict access, limit cross-border competition and are a form of anti-competitive price-fixing, following an investigation launched by the EU's antitrust watchdog last year.

At the time, then-Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said the idea was not to impose pan-European licensing, but rather to change contracts so that customers can access legally-bought content abroad.

Sending a statement of objections is usually the first step on the road to a fine from the Commission – up to 10 per cent of global turnover – but Vestager could also impose new rules that would, in the Commission’s view, rectify the situation. Last month the Commish launched a wider probe into geoblocking issues. As part of that eCommerce inquiry, the Commish sent out questionnaires to content rights holders and broadcasters and is empowered to carry out inspections and levy fines on businesses that don’t hand over the data.

Armed with this new info, Vestager clearly feels she has a point to make.

"There is no need to use geoblocking in order to comply with copyright legislation,” said Reda. “We've heard from Commissioner Oettinger the argument that geoblocking was supposed to protect minority language European films from Hollywood competition. The competition inquiry shows that the opposite is the case.

Minority language productions don't need to be geoblocked in order to be limited to a geographically concentrated audience, namely those who speak the film's language,” continued Reda. “Geoblocking of European indy films leads to immigrants and language students being cut off from these works. They are hence collateral damage of a profit-maximizing technique by a number of dominant market players.” ®

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