The controversial debate on multi-territory licenses for distributing content online has taken a new turn as the European Commission tenders for a study into the possible economic and cultural impact of the scheme.

The Commission's proposals for multi-territory licences have already met strong opposition from film industry bodies such as the UK Film Council, MPA Europe and the European Producers Associations Alliance.

And this latest development could indicate a softening in the approach of Commissioner Viviane Reding, responsible for Information Society and Media, who now says she is 'keeping an open mind on this issue'.

Until now, Commissioner Reding has been firmly behind the idea of introducing multi-territory licenses, arguing that they are vital to establishing a single European market for content.

Indeed, the licences form a core part of the current Communication on Content Online, which represents the Commission's proposals for online distribution of content - including film - in the digital age.

However, the timetable of the public tender means that any conclusions from the study will not be available in time to be fed into the Recommendation on Content Online, expected by the end of this year.

That now makes it less likely that the Recommendation will include a strong step towards Euro-wide licensing at this time.

The current licensing system requires individual copyright agreements for each Member State despite digital technology making cross border distribution of content online across the EU possible. In addition to the logistical issues this presents, rights holders have often been reluctant to make licences available in more than a few countries at a time for marketing and copyright protection reasons.

While the Commission recognises that rights holders need to come to their own decisions on rights, the Communication on Content Online highlights the 'lack of active licensing of rights on new platforms' as one of the main obstacles to a single European Market in this area and the licence proposals were expected to help drive changes toward a more open market.