Once the UK has formally left the European Union, British citizens will no longer be able to benefit from new EU rules of copyright, which include the soon to be enabled right to take your digital subscriptions overseas with you.
The EU’s new so-called Portability Rules will formally come into effect on Sunday. They are designed to enable EU citizens to be able to access their digital subscription services in any of the 28-member states of the Union.
But, with the UK scheduled to leave the EU on March 29th, 2019, it appears that British citizens will only benefit from this new regulation for one year.
Portability Legislation only temporary for Brits
In a notice to stakeholders which was published yesterday, the European Commission, the unelected body of bureaucrats which introduces all EU legislation, confirmed that once Brexit is formally implemented, all EU law will no longer apply to the UK, including the new portability legislation.
Negotiations between the British Government and the European Commission on how Brexit will be carried out are, however, continuing, with a transition period apparently being agreed before Britain pulls out of the European Union entirely.
The European Commission does acknowledge in its notice that it is possible that under the terms of transition period, British citizens might be subject to new regulation for a couple more years. But as the details of any transition period are yet to be agreed, this cannot be confirmed at this stage.
Under the existing arrangements, UK users are unable to access services such as the BBC iPlayer outside the UK. If they subscribe to services such as Netflix, they are able to access content, but only that which is locally available in whichever country they are in.
However, as of Sunday, services such as the BBC iPlayer are required to be available to all British citizens when travelling in the EU, while Netflix would also have to make their British content available to British subscribers throughout all member states.
A consequence of Brexit
Once Britain formally leaves the EU, they will still remain subject to international copyright agreements such as the World Intellectual Property Organization. But they will no longer be covered by EU copyright law. This means that the situation regarding subscription services will revert back to as it is now.
Supporters of Brexit will no doubt look upon this latest announcement as evidence of the EU Commission trying to swing British public opinion against leaving the EU again. Meanwhile, those in Britain who continue to advocate remaining in the EU despite the recent referendum result will say it illustrates the reality of what Britain will lose when it does leave.
But the reality is that for most internet-savvy Brits, the change will make very little difference. It is extremely easy to access the BBC iPlayer and your subscription to streaming services such as Netflix from anywhere in the EU, or indeed around the world. All you need is a VPN.
VPNs render new Portability Rules irrelevant
With a VPN, it is possible to connect to an external server located in the UK and so fool services such as the BBC iPlayer and Netflix into thinking you are still in the UK even when you are not.
They employ a technology known as geo-restriction to try and stop people outside permitted areas from accessing their service. This technology looks at your IP Address to determine your actual geographic location before allowing to you to stream content or not.
But by connecting to a VPN, it is possible to change your IP Address to one in a different country. By doing this, you can get around these geo-restrictions and access content no matter where you are.
The BBC iPlayer and Netflix are two services which have tried to block VPN users from accessing their service. But they have enjoyed extremely limited success in this and a number of premium VPN services, such as NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and CyberGhost can still help users to access both.
VPN use has been rising significantly in the UK in recent times as the British government has lurched towards a surveillance state with legislation such as the snoopers charter which have dramatically undermined internet users privacy.
A VPN’s primary function is as a tool to help protect online privacy and security. But by allowing users to evade geo-restrictions it gives them a great deal more flexibility to travel in the EU and beyond and many people have been taking advantage of this.
So, while the EU’s new Portability Rules are to be welcomed, for many internet users they are already largely irrelevant. VPNs already allow people to take their online subscriptions anywhere in the world with them without the need to be a member of any political union to do so.
For at least the twelve months, British people will be able to access their UK streaming subscriptions across the EU. But if they are travelling further afield they will need a VPN, as they will once Britain finally leaves the EU too.
A VPN only costs a few GB£ to sign up for. And to help find the best one for you, we suggest you start with our guides to the Best VPN for BBC iPlayer and the Best VPN for Netflix.