As of 3 December 2018, unjustified geo-blocking will no longer be allowed in the EU, thanks to the Geo-blocking Regulation (EU) 2018/302 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 February 2018 The Geo-Blocking Regulation addresses unjustified geo-blocking and other forms of discrimination based on customers' nationality, place of residence or place of establishment within the internal market. Geo-blocking has been on the EU Digital Single Market agenda for some time, ever since the Commission found that geo-blocking and other geographically based restrictions undermine online shopping and cross-border sales by limiting the benefits of online commerce for consumers and businesses.  The Geo-blocking Regulation will not apply to some services, such as:

  • audio-visual services that provide access to copyright-protected works or other content, such as Netflix including sports broadcasts;
  • transport;
  • retail financial services; and
  • purely internal situations.

In its final form, the Geo-blocking Regulation will not affect rules relating to copyright and neighbouring rights. First, the Geo-blocking Regulation prohibits blocking access to websites for geographical reasons. Further, a trader cannot redirect a customer to another of its websites for geographical reasons without the customer’s explicit consent, in which case the original website must remain easily accessible to that customer. If blocking or limiting access is necessary for legal compliance, traders must explain this clearly and specifically in the language of the first website used by the customer. Geo-blocking can never be justified in the following three defined situations:

  • The sale of goods without physical delivery

If a Dutch person buying a television finds the best deal on a French website, this Dutch person is entitled to order the television and collect it in France (or organise delivery in Holland). The French seller cannot block the sale to the Dutch person, but it is not obliged to deliver in Holland.

  • The sale of electronically supplied services other than services that provide access to and use of copyright-protected works

A Belgian person can buy hosting services from a German company – the German company cannot block this. By contrast, a Belgian person seeking to buy Spotify services in the UK can be “geo-blocked”, since Spotify is a service providing access to copyright-protected works.

  • The sale of services provided in a specific physical location

If a Spanish student visiting an Italian theme park wants to take advantage of a student discount on the entry-ticket price, the theme park cannot refuse this because the student is Spanish and not Italian.

The Geo-blocking Regulation also provides for a non-discrimination rule in payments. While traders can still choose their own payment methods, they must offer the same payment methods to all customers irrespective of geographical factors. 

Agreements restricting active sales are not affected by the Geo-blocking Regulation. Passive sale agreements violating the Geo-blocking Regulation will be automatically void.