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New rules could let citizens in one EU country stream digital content in another

Why it matters to you

If the European Commission's rules pass as proposed, customers in one EU territory would be able to stream content in another.

One of the most annoying things about traveling abroad are the artificial blocks on content. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now implement geoblocks — systems used to restrict access based on your location — to prevent TV shows and movies from being streaming in territories where they haven’t been licensed. The problem is especially acute in the European Union, where said shows and movies are often available in one member country but not another. But EU regulators are proposing an alternative.

It’s called the Digital Single Market, and its implications stretch far beyond services like Netflix and Hulu. If adopted as proposed by the EU’s executive European Commission, European Parliament, and the EU’s Council of Ministers, it would allow subscribers to access online subscriptions to films, sporting events, video games, ebooks, and music services when traveling within the European Union.

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In practical terms, a user who subscribes Netflix in France will be able to access the same library of TV shows, movies, and series while on holiday in Germany, or on a business trip in Spain.

On-demand services like Amazon Prime and Netflix; online TV services like Sky’s Now TV, and Viasat’s Viaplay; music streaming services such as Spotify and Google Play Music; and online game marketplaces like Steam and Origin will have to comply. They’ll have nine months to implement the new rules, which will take effect the beginning of 2018.

Non-EU citizens won’t be affected by the rules, meaning Americans who frequent Europe won’t be able to take advantage. But Andrus Ansip, European Commission vice president, called Wednesday’s news an “important step” in breaking down barriers to the EU’s Digital Single Market vision.

“Agreements are now needed on our other proposals to modernize EU copyright rules and ensure a wider access to creative content across borders,” he said in a statement. “I count on the European Parliament and member states to make it happen.”

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Not everyone’s pleased with the latest developments. Europa Distribution, an organization that represents 160 distributors, argued that intercountry access to content had to be framed by guidelines on “duration” in order to prevent users from accessing content or “extended periods.” And SACD, the French society of authors, composers, and directors, criticized the policy for its “opaqueness.”

But Thursday’s proposal appears to be final.

The change in copyright law is part of a broader EU push to end the bloc’s longstanding migratory pain points. Last year, the European Commission announced the finalization of an agreement that will allow European travelers to use their phones throughout the EU, without additional charges, from June 15, 2017. The services cell phone customers use while roaming will be charged at the same rate they pay when on their home network.

It joins a previous rule that required carriers to let customers use their included minutes and data abroad.