On 12th December 2017, the European Parliament voted by a decisive majority – 344 votes in favour, 265 votes against and 36 abstentions – to amend the existing Satellite and Cable Directive (93/83/EEC). This amendment requires broadcasters in EU Member States to make online news programmes available for people to view online anywhere within the European Union. However, the amendment is seen by many as a blow to the European Commission’s Digital Single Market as the amendment rejects most of the European Commission’s SatCab regulation.

The current SatCab Directive has been in force since 1st January 1995 and concerns the harmonization of copyright laws in particular fields of satellite broadcasting and cable retransmission to facilitate the cross-border transmission of audio-visual programmes.

The main functions of the current Directive were to establish (i) an EU right for communication to the public by satellite (where rights are cleared within the country of origin for the broadcast) and (ii) rights to simultaneous cross-border cable retransmissions to be exercised by collecting societies representing rights-holders, except for rights held by broadcasting organisations. The current Directive took effect in the United Kingdom as the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 1996.

The proposed modernisation of the Satellite and Cable Directive is part of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy, designed to assess if the current Directive’s scope needs to be expanded to cover broadcasters’ online transmissions and whether new measures are required to improve cross-border access to broadcasters’ services in Europe. Currently, broadcasters need to clear copyright in a very limited time-frame for every country in which they make news and current affairs programmes available online. The amendment means they would only need to clear the rights in their own country, rather than needing to negotiate with each Member State.

The Commission wished to broaden online access to audio-visual media across the EU beyond news and current affairs, however, the vote by MEPs rejected much of the Commission’s aims – it excludes films and other content from benefiting from these copyright clearance arrangements.

Reactions to the vote have been mixed, with the Commission lamenting that the amendments fail to “meet people’s expectations… with their viewing and listening habits.” However, the response of private broadcasters to the Parliament’s limitation of cross-border content has been more positive, with some believing that the original proposals for all media to be available across the EU would cut into company profits by preventing them from selling licences by Member State. The Association of Commercial Television in Europe described the vote as “one in support of the amount, quality and diversity of television and movies available to viewers.”

Having taken a parliamentary vote on the proposed amendment to the Satellite and Cable Directive, the next stage falls to the European Council of Ministers and European Commission to agree the final text and the implementation date.