Digital Media Owners Should Stop Moaning. The EU Is A Single Market

So that's it. No more parliament until we have voted in an election that will be hotly contested around Europe and immigration. On the one hand today, we have the Labour party taking out a full-page Financial Timesad warning of the dangers to business of Britons being given a vote on whether the country should remain within the EU. Then, on the other hand, we have the digital industry rallying against the EU, saying what a disaster it is to be within a grouping of countries where a single market could actually mean we operate within a market that is, well... single.

It has taken a little while for the penny to drop for the digital industry that in a world of broadband that empowers high-speed subscription services -- as well as allowing new music, films, newspapers and magazines to be bought at the press of a button --  that if we are talking EU, we are all in the same market. I've never been a fan of how media is rolled out one territory at a time. For something that is live, and revolves around a star turning up on a red carpet or singing on stage, then it's a no-brainer that launches have to be planned sequentially. But when that movie comes out on DVD or the gig is available on a CD or to stream, why should one market get it so long after another -- and why for a variety of prices, depending on which country you are in?

It is, of course, nonsense, and a single market should have put an end to it. The only thing is, the European Parliament and Commission has never managed to get a hook on copyright and so hasn't come up with an all-encompassing vision or law. So  media owners have been able to geo-fence territories and roll out their content one market at a time for different sums of money, side-stepping the issue that the EU is a single market. 

The issue can perhaps be best understood by what happens when you try to geo-fence people in sport, I am waiting for the day that a professional footballer takes the Football Association to court over its "home grown" plans to limit the number of foreign players in a squad. To start with, the rules are nonsense -- because a player from Northern Ireland or Scotland is considered "foreign" to the English leagues, yet a youngster snapped up by an English team from mainland Europe and then loaned back to another mainland European team is considered "home grown" even though they may have never stepped foot in Britain. The really stupid part comes from the very simple fact that you cannot prevent a European citizen from selling his or her labour in the single market. So, you can't tell a football club to favour English players over the French, Italians and so on. One court case and the entire system will fall down.

So while we wait for this to happen in sport -- and trust me, that day will come -- we're also waiting for it to happen in the media. You just can't sell an Italian a movie or music streaming subscription and tell them not to use their credentials to log in during a holiday in France. They haven't left the single market. Their account should work without restriction. You also can't get away with charging one price in France and another in Italy and if you try to launch a single in the UK a month before other territories, you shouldn't expect to stop people within that single market buying it under the same time restrictions as another member of the EU.

So all the chest-beating from the media is falling on very deaf ears for me, and the UK government too -- which has no choice other than to accept the current moves in Brussels to unify the media landscape under a single market. 

We signed up to all of this a long time ago ,and we may well yet be voting on its again within a couple of years. But, should anyone in digital media be in any doubt, a single market is a market that is single. End of story. Get over it. 


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