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Brussels, 6 October 2008

Protection of pay-TV services: Europe-wide protection against conditional-access piracy still indispensable, says Commission report

In a changing market, it remains essential for the roll-out of pay-TV services that conditional-access systems be protected at European level against piracy. This is the verdict of a report published today by the European Commission. Such protection is also a vital precondition for the growth of new content distribution services like video on demand, online products and mobile TV. To boost the effectiveness of the European Directive providing this protection, the Commission is setting up a group in which government experts can exchange information and good practice, and proposes that the EU ratify the Council of Europe’s European Convention on the Legal Protection of Services based on, or consisting of, Conditional Access. At the same time, the Commission bemoans the sluggish growth of cross-border conditional-access services on offer and intends to put together a complete picture of the potential of cross-border markets, especially as many Europeans tend to move around the continent.

The rise of pay-TV has benefited from the EU-wide protection afforded by Directive 98/84/EC on conditional-access services. It is now ten years since this was adopted and the Commission’s stock-taking, in this second report on the application of the Directive, comes at a time of radical change in the economic and technological climate.

The report is based on input from a study (carried out in 2007) on the impact of the Directive, a public consultation between February and April of this year and direct contacts with the industry. The study and the results of the consultation are available at the same address as the report (see below).

The report comes to a number of conclusions on the basis of the information gathered.

First, efforts to combat piracy against conditional-access systems have varied according to Member State. Industry players in some Member States point to overly mild penalties and a lack of technical expertise on the part of their national administrations. Also, they call for the adoption of penalties for the possession of pirate access systems (such as decoders that avoid having to pay for pay-TV) by private individuals; such penalties are currently not provided for by the Directive.

On the other hand, the report establishes that many new and thriving types of service are protected by the Directive: video on demand, mobile TV and online streaming, for instance, which all use conditional-access systems to restrict access to paying customers.

As regards possibilities for extending protection under the Directive, be it to cover copyright or exclusive broadcasting rights for sporting events, or the use of conditional access for purposes other than safeguarding service providers’ income, the report concludes that more information is required.

Nevertheless, while the aim of the Directive is to establish an internal market in conditional-access services, the report finds that the cross-border growth of such services has been very limited. As millions of people in Europe live away from their country of origin and want to access services from ‘back home’, but often cannot, the Commission will be gathering more information on potential markets for the distribution of TV programmes and films beyond national borders.

In addition, in order to improve implementation of the Directive, the Commission has decided to set up a group in which Member State experts will exchange information and good practice for national administrations and discuss any problems that arise in relation to conditional access.

Finally, the report stresses the international dimension of piracy, which is unfortunately not confined to European borders. In a desire to see protection extended, the Commission intends to propose to the Council that it ratify the Council of Europe’s European Convention on the Legal Protection of Services based on, or consisting of, Conditional Access.

The report, in all Community languages, and all information concerning the Directive are available here:

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