Are you being blocked or automatically redirected to another site when trying to buy a product or service on a site in another European country? Have you ever been unable to watch a video on the internet because it was not available in your country? Since 2018, unjustified geo-blocking is banned in the European Union. Since then you also enjoy EU wide unlimited access to online services subscribed in your home country e.g. streaming of movies and music.
The European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net) are the official geoblocking contact points in most EU Member States. In addition, there is an enforcement authority in each EU country that penalises violations of the geo-blocking regulation. In Germany, the Federal Network Agency has been appointed as the enforcement authority.
"Geo-blocking" is the term used to describe all business practices in which a consumer is disadvantaged on the basis of his or her nationality, place of residence, place of issue of his or her means of payment, the location of his or her payment account, language selection or delivery address.
In order to promote the cross-border electronic commerce in the EU, MEPs (members of European Parliament) approved 6 February 2018 a regulation that prohibits the blocking or automatic redirection to a different site without the permission of the consumer. Since that time, there can no longer be discrimination, automatic blockage, or access limitation based on:
- place of residence
- place of establishment
- IP address
- delivery address
- choice of language
- country of issue of means of payment
Geo-blockling: What is allowed / forbidden
When connecting from Germany, you must be able to consult the foreign site of a professional. The latter can ask you to confirm your choice to stay on this page in a foreign language. If you ultimately decide to consult the German page, it can record your choice for future connections, but you must be able to easily return to the foreign site if you would like. Only legal or public security reasons can prevent you from accessing a certain interface. But the professional has to clearly inform you of these reasons.
The geo-blocking regulation concerns the following in e-commerce:
- goods that can be delivered in another state in the European Union
- services provided electronically (data storage services or website hosting)
- services such as hotel accommodations and car rental
Audiovisual services are governed by the cross-border portability regulation (see below).
The geo-blocking regulation excludes e.g.:
- copyrighted content services,
- financial services, transport (specific rules are applicable and generally forbid discrimination),
- health care,
- social services.
Professionals are still free to choose the countries in which they wish to deliver and are not obligated to deliver into other countries. They can legally propose different prices depending on the countries. But you can not be refused by the professionnel if you give him a delivery address in a country which he accept as a delivery-country (e.g. address of friends or carrier).
Since 2018 you enjoy EU wide access to your online account - thanks to the European Regulation 2017/1128. If you find yourself temporarily in another member state of the European Union, you are be able to enjoy your paid subscriptions for watching films, series, or listening to music. The regulation aims to promote cross-border portability of digital content. You can therefore enjoy while in the European Union your subscriptions for:
- Streaming or video platforms (examples: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube)
- Digital books to download
- Television programs on replay on private national channels
- Sports events broadcast by premium services
You must take advantage of the same characteristics of your subscriptions in the hole European Union:
- access to the same content,
- same assortment,
- for the same number of devices and users,
- with the same abilities.
But this is without guarantee of quality of service. National public broadcasting companies are an exception. Their online content can be blocked for forerign users.
Cross-border portability is only mandatory for paid subscriptions. Free service providers are free to offer it or not to their clients.
These regulations only apply to temporary stays in other European Union countries. A person residing in Germany could not enjoy a subscription to a French television channel, for example.
The regulation does not provide any definition to the term “temporary”. Professionals will therefore be able to verify your place of usual residence by means of your billing address, means of your used payment, your IP address, your internet access contract, etc.