What The New Geo-blocking Laws Mean For Website Operators

Author:Deirdre Kilroy
Profession:Matheson
 
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Deirdre Kilroy and Clodagh Crumlish explain the new 'Geo-blocking regulation' and what impact it will have for website operators across the EU.

What is geo-blocking?

Geo-blocking is the practice of using territorial licensing restrictions in online and offline transactions of physical goods and the provision of electronic services. In practice, geo-blocking stops customers in one country from accessing websites in other countries through the use of geofactors such as location of IP addresses. From the traders' perspective, geo-blocking facilitates treating markets differently online. However, consumers within the EU, where there is an expectation of a common market, were frustrated by this approach.

Regulation (EU) 2018/302 on addressing unjustified geo-blocking and other forms of discrimination based on customers' nationality, place of residence or place of establishment within the internal market (the 'Geo-blocking Regulation') entered into force on 22 March 2018 and will apply across the EU from 3 December 2018. From this date the Geo-blocking Regulation will have the effect of increasing price transparency by allowing customers to access different national websites if they wish.

How this impacts on traders in the EU

The Geo-blocking Regulation aims to provide the same opportunities to consumers and businesses transacting across the European Union. It applies to all traders of goods and services, including online marketplaces, operating in the EU. These traders must review their trading terms, distribution operations and digital sales organisation before the 3 December 2018 deadline in order to ensure compliance.

On a practical level, the new rules will entitle buyers to shop online in the EU without being blocked from the retailers' EU websites, or without being automatically rerouted to a website aimed at their country of residence, location or nationality. A customer's express consent is required in order to reroute. The ban on geo-blocking allows customers to review websites across the EU, and to compare prices in different countries if they wish. So a French customer must be able to access the Irish version of the same website should they choose to do so and may not be forcibly redirected to the French equivalent without explicit consent.

Traders operating in the EU may also not distinguish on the basis of the location of a customer's payment service provider or bank account. The Geo-blocking Regulation precludes instances where...

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