In a move relevant to all companies active in online sales, on 26 March 2015, the European Commissioner in charge of competition policy announced a forthcoming proposal to launch a competition inquiry in the e-commerce sector. The inquiry, if confirmed (and it is very likely that it will be), will focus on private and, in particular, contractual barriers to cross-border ecommerce in the EU in digital content and goods.

As is normal in such inquiries, once the inquiry is launched, the EC will gather information from a large number of stakeholders in all EU Member States. Knowledge gained through the sector inquiry will be used to enforce competition law in the e-commerce sector and also, the EC indicates, to facilitate consideration of various legislative initiatives which the Commission plans to launch to boost the EU’s Digital Single Market.

This latter point is particularly important; the inquiry will impact future legislation. One practice which could be impacted is so-called “geo-blocking” of websites based on exclusive territorial content licenses. That is currently a difficult issue under EU competition law.

In any event, the inquiry and the questionnaires should be followed and considered carefully by any company with an interest. Active participation, with advice taken as necessary, is essential.