Good God, is There No Indignity Too Trivial For Government Officials to Regulate?

The Business Secretary of the UK is desperately worried that when travelling to other countries, Brits will encounter a different selection of Netflix programming from what they are used to at home.  This trivial issue seems to demand a whole new regulatory and copyright regime:

Vince Cable will risk a clash with the film and music industries on Tuesday by calling for the creation of a single EU market for digital services such as Netflix.

The Business Secretary will say in a speech in Brussels that such services should offer the same content in all EU member states, for services paid for in one country to be available in the same form in all countries and for pricing offers to be replicated across the continent.

At present Netflix and Spotify, which operates a subscription streaming service for music, offers different catalogues at different prices depending on where the customer is located.

Harmonising such services across the EU would require copyright holders to change the way they license their material, which is currently carefully segmented for different geographic markets to maximise sales

Whenever Euro-regulators suggest harmonization across countries, they always assume that harmonization will lead to everyone adopting whatever the lowest current rate and broadest service offering that  exists in any one country.  But why?  That pretty much never happens.  It is at least as likely that anyone getting harmonized will get worse service at a higher price.


  1. disqus_00YDCZxqDV:

    It's just hot air. Nobody in the UK and especially not Europe listens to Vince Cable

  2. jdgalt:

    Most (all?) European countries have rules requiring such services (as well as radio and TV channels) to carry a certain percentage of locally produced content, often 30 or 40%. Before Netflix could offer services (or content) that are the same in every country, it would have to be exempted from those local-content rules -- because it's not possible to be in compliance with more than one or two of them at the same time.

  3. LoneSnark:

    I am curious. Is there any such restriction in the U.S.?

  4. greg:

    as an answer to the title of the post.....No, there is nothing too small.

    Exhibit A: I found myself in a dispute yesterday with the local ski slope here in connecticut. Seems the state legislature have passed a law that you now MUST use the safety bar on the chair lift. I came away thinking that exact thought. Is there really nothing too small and trivial for a government to pass a law over?

  5. mesocyclone:

    If Europe had admitted Turkey into the EU, as they hoped, this whole discussion would cause their pointy little heads to explode.

  6. randian:

    Harmonization pretty much guarantees the highest price is what everybody gets. EU regulators are big on tax harmonization too, which prevents "harmful tax competition" between member countries.

  7. don:

    Of course you forget the maxim of the marxist crowd. Equality for all, without regard for quality. Better to bring down everyone's content and pay a higher price than to have one sad area that does not have as good of service as another. that would be just wrong.

  8. Jeff Bishop:

    This does not seem like a bad thing to me. Just as we have federal copyright law between the states of the US, they would have a unified copyright status between the EU states. It might not be in the best interests of the large content publishers but it seems to be clearly within the scope of EU lawmaking, and follows along with the desired result of border-less EU commerce. Physical goods are already tariff-free between EU states, if I read the laws correctly.

  9. Penkville:

    While I agree with the general criticism of government micromanagement I'm not sure this is the greatest example. I can see what has driven it, because as we now have freedom of movement around the EU etc., your average Brit businessman sitting in a hotel room in Amsterdam and wanting to continue with catching up on Justified can't because it isn't on the Dutch version of Netflix for whatever reason, and he doesn't understand why that should be. I know what some of the reasons for that are, it's just that we have all the crap parts of the EU super state already, so where are the benefits... I imagine most people in the US would find this situation a bit frustrating if it happened when they crossed the state line.

  10. Q46:

    There is a very easy and cost effective solution. It involves no Governments, no bureaucracies, no taxpayer money, no regulation, no difficulties with licences, allows 100% consumer choice, only affects those who consider it a problem.

    Because 'digital services' has already provided a solution.

    Get a VPN which prevents location being recognised.

    These are abundant and either free or low cost and would permit the odysseying class to log onto their domestic Netflix account and watch whatever pleases them, where ever they are. In fact I suspect many of such already will have a VPN for a variety of reaons, some we should not explore

    The true problem here is politicians (and Cable really is a useless, old fart) simply do not understand the Internet and the technology around it. There is little they do seem to understand.

    It is in fact slowly making them redundant, but they just cannot see it coming.

  11. Q46:

    Well you are an American so I shall make allowances. Unified copyright status between 26 Countries... sure, how long can that take?

    Has the US Government tried to do something like that with say, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, etc? No, What's stopping them?

    So just so you understand what you are saying, you want the EU to tell the likes of NBC and CBS, Sony, Universal and other US media to rip up the contracts they have with BBC, TF1, RA1, Sky, CanalPlus and all the other TV, satellite, cable, cinema companies and the EU will tell them how they can do business, with whom, and how much they can charge?

    How well will that play in DC do you ya think?

  12. randian:

    In DC that would play pretty well. They don't care much about constitutional limits these days, that's why they're taking "net neutrality" seriously, which is basically the government telling companies how, with whom, and how much. In the boardrooms of the respective companies, of course, that wouldn't play at all.

  13. Jeff Bishop:

    I'm disappointed in you for opening your response with an insult.

    Unifying copyright law does not mean that the EU will tell the US media companies how much they can charge. It would mean that they could contract with one or more companies throughout the EU without concern for geographical subdivision. The new EU copyright laws might allow for some geographical limitations, just as sports broadcasts in the US are subject to geographical limitations, but it would eliminate the default limitations, and allow for the creation of one contract for the EU instead of 26.

    If EU copyright consolidation is a bad thing, then do you believe that the US should have 50 different copyright markets, with Netflix being forced to contract with 50 different entities to deliver content across the US?

    As to how easy or hard it is, I was not addressing that question. I was simply questioning the premise that a unified EU copyright regime was an inherently bad thing. It will be as easy or as hard as the politicians wish it to be.

  14. Q46:


    It is not an issue of copyright, it is an issue of contract.

    If BBC sells a show to CBS it will be contract bound not to sell it to anyone else until the show has aired on CBS... unless the contract includes repeats when further restriction might apply.

    If say, BBC has already aired the show in UK, BBC could sell rights to Netflix with stipulation it could broadcast it in the UK, but not the USA, as this would breach its contract with CBS which you can be sure will say BBC will not sell the show to another for broadcast in the USA whilst the BBC/CBS contract is in force.

    So in Europe.

    For example: Sky TV, a satellite broadcaster, may have bought the rights to all seasons of Mentalist for broadcast in the UK. It would be a breach of contract for the show maker to sell the same rights to the BBC. Sky would sue them.

    The thing is show-maker's contract with Sky in the UK for the Mentalist may have expired, so showmaker is now free to sell rights to Netflix for broadcast in the UK. But show-maker has a current contract running with TF1 in France, so is not free to sell rights to Netflix for broadcast in France.

    I live in France and last two seasons of Mentalist are not available on Netflix, because they are currently in the schedules of a French TV company.

    Now multiply that by 26 for all the States of the EU.

    It is not clear how legislation in the EU can make it so that, for example, CBS can make identical contracts for the same shows during the same time scales in all Countries of the EU, so that they would subsequently be able to make the shows available for pan-European availability on Netflix.

    It is an example of politicians not understanding much about the real World.