The European Union (EU) this week criticised Europe's pay-TV companies for creating the conditions that encourage piracy of their services.

In a new report on electronic services the European Commission said: "significant amounts of piracy result from the impossibility of obtaining pay satellite-TV channels originating from other member states. EU citizens fail to understand why, within the internal market, they cannot get legitimate access to protected pay-TV services, even if they are prepared to pay."

Although their satellite footprints cover much of Europe, broadcasters typically operate within a single country and refuse to supply smart cards or access codes to people without a legitimate address or phone number in that country. But operators including BSkyB and Canal Plus have over recent years complained of increasing traffic in pirated cards and codes.

The broadcasters argue that their deals with content owners and rights societies usually delimit the territorial rights to usage of the film or programme. The Commission called for pay-TV companies and right holders to seek contractual solutions and issued a veiled threat that if they do not do so, it will propose new legislation.

The report said that electronic piracy in the EU had risen 500% since 1996. And it warned of the consequences if it is not kept in check. "The knowledge-based economies of the 21st century are expected to rely increasingly on electronic pay-services. Piracy of such services will have the same detrimental effects in the future as white-collar crime and counterfeiting of goods in the twentieth century."