ACT seeks EU rules update

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BRUSSELS -- The EU's overhaul of pay TV and video-on-demand rules should strengthen the law while making it easier for broadcasters to operate across different territories, Europe's commercial broadcasters said Monday.

The Association of Commercial Television in Europe is pushing for an update of the 10-year-old EU directive on conditional-access services in order to cover the latest technology.

Most of Europe's commercial broadcasters have launched or plan to launch new services such as Internet Protocol TV and mobile TV, which are conditional-access and digital rights management-enabled. The ACT said the review needs to establish that the 1998 directive covers these services.

"In an era where the transition to digital has increased the possibility and levels of piracy, the ACT would also suggest expanding the scope of the directive to cover services not offered against payment," ACT director general Ross Biggam said.

Biggam said that the 1998 directive -- which set common standards for conditional-access systems across the EU -- has given vital legal protection to Europe's multibillion-dollar pay TV services and helped harmonize a formerly fragmented market. The result has been a boost in audiovisual services and a rise in demand for productions and events.

But it also has stimulated a new type of piracy -- sales of illegal equipment that enable users to decode programs without paying the broadcaster.

The ACT insists that the 1998 directive does not cover the so-called gray market, in which consumers use fictitious addresses to illegally obtain subscriptions to TV services in neighboring countries, breaking territorial restrictions. The gray market, the group says, is treated as a breach of contractual law rather than a form of piracy.

Biggam added that, ultimately, ACT does not see any legal obstacles to cross-border purchases of broadcasting rights.

"In both pay- and free-to-air broadcasting, the market is responding and providing cross-border services where there is a sufficient demand to allow a reasonable prospect of return on investment," Biggam said.
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