Maltese MEP Agius Saliba wants to end Netflix ‘discriminatory practices’

Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba insists audio visual content from streaming sites like Netflix should be the same for all European citizens

Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba will be taking up the cause to end “discriminatory practices” in Europe by audio-visual streamers like Netflix.

Saliba, who is a member of the European Parliament's Petitions Committee, has taken up the cause put forward by Spanish politician Lara Mendez over the way citizens from certain EU countries cannot access blocked content despite paying the same subscription as other European citizens.

 

The petition argues that “such practices are preventing European citizens from fully exercising their rights as consumers.”

Saliba has called for legislation at a European level that allows citizens to enjoy their audio-visual services regardless of their country of origin.

While the issue is a result of non-streamlined legislation, a pertinent issue is that of geo-blocking.

Geoblocking is the system used to limit access to the internet, based on one’s geographic location. This is possible in instances involving copyrighted works.

The provision of online audio-visual services, such as Netflix, typically entails the distribution of copyright protected works, which may be subject to specific licensing arrangements between producers and distributors.

Therefore, in order for a service provider to make content available to more than one country, it must obtain the rights to stream such content in the relevant territory.

“The service provider may have acquired the rights for certain films and television series only for certain territories and is therefore not able to make them available online across the EU,” the European Commission said in its reply to the petition on 3 February.

The commission also said that while there is geo-blocking regulation in place to address the problem of customers not being able to buy goods and services for reasons related to the customers’ nationality, place of residence or place of establishment, such rules do not apply to electronically supplied devices.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Agius Saliba said the issue is a significant one, and insisted that new legislation be adopted to ensure the equal access of all EU citizens to the content.

“EU citizens hailing from all the different countries are paying the same subscription fee, but yet the content made available to them is different, and that is not right,” he said.

Agius Saliba drew comparisons with mobile roaming services legislation.

He had said that a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable to travel to any country without roaming charges, but thanks to the work adopted by European institutions such legislation was adopted and is now benefitting EU consumers.

In 2018, the European Commission adopted legislation which allowed European citizens access to content they subscribed to at home.

The rules apply to paid-for services, but providers of free content can also opt in.

Providers of online content also benefit from the regulation. They no longer have to acquire licences for other territories where their subscribers are travelling to.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Netflix subscriptions increased by 8.9% over the previous year.

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