Laws From Before (the Internet)

Years ago, I spent a happy three years living in Paris. I’d moved there via Germany, then Austria. I didn’t take much with me and the one thing I was happiest to leave behind was my TV. I didn’t own a TV for perhaps a decade.

Each European country I lived in had some quirky laws – that’s quirky when compared with the UK equivalents. For instance, shops in Vienna closed at lunchtime on Saturday and didn’t open on Sunday. The one exception was a store that mostly sold CDs and DVDs, right near the Hofburg (the old royal palace) that had apparently earned the right to stay open, when it sold milk and other essentials, direct to the royal family. It seemed that the law protected that right, even though there was no royal family and it didn’t sell milk.

I was perhaps not surprised to read recently that there are plenty of anachronistic laws covering French TV. For instance

  • National broadcasters can’t show films on Wednesday, Friday or Saturday
  • Those same broadcasters also can’t run ads for books, movies or sales at retailers
  • And they’re not allowed to focus any ads they do show on particular locations or demographics

The French government is considering changing these laws, but not until the end of 2020. Plainly the restrictions don’t apply to Youtube, Netflix or Amazon Prime. Netflix, alone, has 5m users in France. TV is struggling already; and it’s even more hobbled with such laws.

There are, of course, plenty of other more important issues going on that demand the attention of any country’s executive, and so perhaps it’s not a surprise that, even in 2019, laws such as these exist.

But in the digital world where, for instance, in the UK, we legislated for digital signatures to be valid as far back as 2000, it’s interesting to look at the barriers that other countries have in place, for historical reasons, to making progress in the next decade.