German Pirate MEP Julia Reda's copyright report calls for an end to geoblocking within
the EU market, which is inarguably required to create a single digital
market. If a European can buy something in one EU member state, she
should be able to buy it in the other member-states, too.
The objection that this will be bad for minority language audiovisual
materials is a non-sequitur. For the most part, geographic
restrictions are a proxy for language restrictions. The right to sell
a film's Italian-language rights in Germany is effectively worthless.
Changes to territorial restrictions that mean that the Italian
distributor can sell the Italian edition everywhere in the EU will not
change this fact.
Who benefits from territorial restrictions? Not material in minority
languages, and not material produced by independent producers.
Some EU nations share languages — Austria and Germany; the
Netherlands and parts of Belgium, etc. Other EU territories — such as
the Nordic countries share a large degree of English-language
proficiency. The division of these territories on national (rather
than linguistic) lines generates some additional income — but by
definition, this additional profit only accrues to products that are
in widely-spoken languages.
Then there are the works whose appeal is largely visual or auditory,
not linguistic — sporting events and some music. Territorial
divisions allow those very popular and profitable works to eke out a
few more points of profit by playing territorial distributors off
against one another.
In other words, geoblocking isn't an existential requirement — it's a
profit-maximisation strategy used by the most popular works in the
most widely-spoken languages.
Geoblocking works at the expense of independent material, material in
minority languages, and the essential character of a common market.
Works in minority languages are vanishingly unlikely to find
distributorship outside of the territories where that language is
spoken. No one outside of Spain is buying the Catalan-language
distribution rights to copyrighted works. But there are Catalan
speakers all over the EU — especially since austerity has
sent so many Spanish citizens abroad looking for economic opportunity.
The Catalan diaspora would like to buy Catalan works from Amazon.es,
from the Google Play store, and from other Internet-accessible
services. However, all of these services routinely block access to
Catalan material outside of Spain, because the distributors have
marked them for distribution within the territory they control — or
because in the absence of evidence to the contrary and in the face of
stiff penalties for distribution outside of licensed territories, the
digital platforms simply resolve all territorial ambiguity by refusing
to sell to anyone they aren't dead certain they have the rights to
No creator relishes the prospect of a customer being refused at the
cash-register. The thought that someone out there wants to buy my UK
English-language books in Sweden or Italy and is being rebuffed by
Google or Apple because they're not sure who holds those rights is
dreadful to me. My readers want to give me money, I want their money
to feed my family and pay my rent, but the quagmire of territorial
restrictions established to maximise the profits of the biggest
players in the entertainment industry means that it's not worth
anyone's while to collect their money and give it to me.
The only proven-effective means of reducing piracy is to offer
attractive legitimate propositions. Viewers and readers who can't
access the material they want over legitimate channels are more likely
to turn to illegitimate channels. Once they start using those
channels, they tend to keep using them. Geoblocking creates piracy by
denying Europeans legitimate channels to pay for the material their
friends in other member-states are talking about online.
The economics of geoblocking dictate that works in majority languages
are distributed abroad at the expense of works in minority languages
and that diaspora populations are denied legitimate channels for
experiencing works in their native languages. It drives up piracy and
delegitimises the very idea of paying for media.