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You can now use your Netflix subscription in any EU country

Written by  Apr 03, 2018
'This content is not available in your country' – a damn annoying message, especially when you're paying for it. But a new EU regulation means you can now access Netflix, Amazon Prime and other services from any country in Europe, marking an end to boring evenings in hotels watching BBC World News.

The European Commission’s ‘digital single market strategy’, which last year claimed victory over mobile roaming charges, has now lead to it passing the ‘portability regulation’, which will allow users around the EU to use region locked services more freely while travelling abroad.

Under currently active rules, what content is available in a certain territory is based on the specific local rights that a provider has secured. The new rules allow for what Phil Sherrell, head of international media, entertainment and sport for international law firm Bird and Bird, calls “copyright fiction”, allowing the normal rules to be bent temporarily while a user is travelling.

The regulation was originally passed in June 2017, but the nine-month period given to rights holders and service providers to prepare is about to expire, and thereby making the rules enforceable.

From today, content providers, whether their products are videos, music, games, live sport or e-books, will use their subscribers’ details to validate their home country, and let them access all the usual content and services available in that location all around the Union. This is mandatory for all paid services, who are also not permitted to charge extra for the new portability.

Sadly, this doesn’t mean you get extra content from other countries when you use the services back at home, just parity of experience around the EU. Another caveat to the regulation is that services which are offered for free, such as the online offerings of public service broadcasters like the BBC, are not obliged to follow the regulation. These providers instead may opt-in to the rules should they want to compete with their fee charging rivals.


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All the best TV series streaming on Netflix right now

Streaming services have not been completely useless when taken abroad previously of course. Many of them allow users to download content for limited periods of time, which can be accessed without connecting to the internet, or in the case of games platforms or eBooks, downloading the content before use is the normal method of use. For some users, this law will change little about their entertainment behaviours. For the unprepared traveller, the new rules will be welcome indeed.

In general though, the content providers who spoke to WIRED were positive about the regulation. Amazon, a provider of both streamed video and music content via Prime, said it had been a “strong proponent for this EU Portability Regulation change which will directly benefit customers”.

Now TV explained what it had been doing to prepare since the ruling passed: “Our technology teams have busy behind the scenes getting the service ready, from removing geo-blocking restrictions on EU countries so we can permit sign-in outside the UK, to adding checks that the customer is eligible to roam and is accessing the service from an IP address in an EU member country.” It also said users would be verified via the credit or debit card registered to the account to make sure the viewer is legitimate.

Netflix also confirmed its involvement, saying that its users “will be able to take their home catalogue with them for a limited period of time”.

The position of the BBC, which runs the iPlayer is unclear. A spokesperson said that the Corporation is “interested in being able to allow UK licence fee payers to access BBC iPlayer while they are on holiday, and welcome the EU regulation to help make this feasible. There are complex technical issues to resolve which we are investigating, and it will be dependent on what legislation is in effect in the UK in the future.”

The law is undoubtedly a positive change for EU customers, In a way though, how an individual uses their streaming services of choice abroad currently will determine how much of a benefit they will see come the beginning of April.

Brexit of course may mean UK users only benefit from the legislation for a year or so, but that’s as yet unconfirmed. For now though, we can enjoy the simple pleasure of going abroad and, instead of sampling some of the local sights, enjoy the crucial freedom of watching, listening, playing or reading the same things that we could get at home.

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