The EU Commission recently published a Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe. The Strategy sets out 16 targeted actions which, if implemented, will have significant and far reaching impacts on e-commerce throughout the Community. These focus on better access to digital goods and services for consumers and businesses across Europe; the creation of better conditions and a level playing field so that digital networks and innovative services flourish and maximising the potential for growth in the digital economy.
The main actions proposed by the Commission include:
- Harmonising EU rules on contracts and consumer protection and reviewing the Regulation on Consumer Protection Cooperation to increase consumer rights and enforcement. The Commission’s proposals include increased harmonisation of remedies in respect of incorrect or defective goods, including for defective digital content purchased online. Once implemented these measures are likely to require online retailers and service providers to review and update their terms and conditions. However, once updated T&Cs are less likely to require localisation to conform with varying national consumer protection laws.
- Ending unjustified geo-blocking (which allows online sellers to deny consumers access to a website based on their location or to re-route them to a local website with different prices), potentially through changes to the e-Commerce framework and the Services Directive. While these measures will be subject to an exception in respect of justified geo-blocking, it is not yet clear what this will entail. These measures will be particularly relevant to online retailers whose current business models involve different pricing based on the home territory of the relevant customer.
- Reviewing the regulation of TV services including the Satellite and Cable Directive and the Audiovisiual Media Services Directive with a focus on the roles of different market players, e.g. TV broadcasters, on-demand services etc. and whether such regulation should also apply to broadcasters’ online transmissions. It is not yet clear how the Commission intends to overhaul the regulation of this complex area, however it seems likely that the outcome of the Commission’s review will impact traditional broadcasters and providers of newer on-demand services alike.
- Reforming European copyright law through legislative proposals to reduce differences in national copyright regimes across the EU; ensuring greater portability of legally acquired content; ensuring cross border access to legally purchased online service; harmonising exceptions to copyright and clarifying the rules in relation to intermediaries and copyrighted content. These reforms are likely to facilitate increased cross border trade for online retailers and providers of digital content, as the harmonised regime will ensure they are not obliged to comply with widely differing national copyright regimes. The Commission’s aim of increased enforcement against commercial-scale infringements of intellectual property rights will also benefit rights holders.
The Commission’s overarching goal is to remove barriers in the online marketplace and create a digital single market where the free flow of goods and services mirrors that which has developed offline. However, it remains to be seen how these changes will impact those in the online sphere. They are likely to have disruptive effects on a wide range of industries. While they will create lucrative opportunities for agile businesses to develop and expand their online activities, retailers and service providers that do not adapt may find that the digital single market will pose significant challenges to their current business models.