What is geoblocking?
The term geoblocking denotes a technology providers use to block internet content regionally. It is commonly used in media such as television or films. The term consists of the components „geo“, which stands for „regional“, and „blocking“. Thus, geoblocking means the blocking of selected content in a specific geographic region.
Because the site operator knows which country the user accesses the internet from, he can exclude certain contents due to country-specific copyright law. Geoblocking, for example, prevents end-users in Germany from watching American television. But not only audio-visual media are being blocked for commercial reasons – in countries like Turkey or dictatioral regimes like North Korea there is a strict internet censorship. Internet sites are partially inaccessible for the inhabitants.
Geoblocking and problems with online shopping
If customers want to buy a concert ticket or rent a car via the Internet, the respective costs depend greatly on the location from which they place their order. The same product can be priced at different costs. The customer’s IP address enables online retailers to identify the country of origin. About two out of three online retailers in Europe use geoblocking. Customers are automatically redirected to websites where the offer is more expensive or not available. Of course, many consumers wish to end geoblocking.
Reasons for abandoning geoblocking
More and more people demand the abolition of geoblocking. Their reasons are manifold. Essentially, in addition to commercial aspects, they are concerned with the following points:
Discrimination: Geoblocking denies language minorities, exchange students or migrants online access to their culture.
Exclusion: People who wish to learn another language or fans of foreign sports leagues are forced to pay money or look for illegal sources.
Limitation to creativity: Many works of art do not get to a worldwide audience, as they are only accessible in certain countries.
After years of negotiations, the EU Parliament has now adopted a regulation that will become effective in 2020. But the decision is hardly satisfactory, as there will be no end to geoblocking anytime soon. Copyrighted digital content will still be restricted according to national borders. The regulation does not affect key elements of e-commerce such as videos, e-books or PC games. However, it’s a step in the right direction. Online merchants will no longer exclude foreign buyers from their websites or automatically redirect them to sites that offer different prices. But the regulation only applies to goods which are not protected by copyright. In case a retailer does not offer the option to deliver to a country requested by a buyer, customers should at least be allowed to pick up the goods themselves.
Different regulations of streaming services
However, since March 2018, streaming providers such as Netflix and Sky had already applied different regulations for subscribers. In future, the clients may use their subscriptions in other EU countries. However, this only applies to a temporary stay. To check whether users are permanently or temporarily residing in other EU countries, the billing address or bank account will be checked. That is supposed to prevent end-users from using a cheaper subscription from the streaming service provider in the neighboring country.