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Want American Netflix? The Government Is On Your Side.

‘Watch Game of Thrones Free – We’re sorry, this video is not available in your region.’

Geoblocking, a technological process frequently used by foreign online streaming services such as US Netflix or HBO to prevent people overseas from accessing their content. Whilst there are a number of ways to get around geoblocks, such as using a VPN or proxy, the question often asked is whether this is legal.

The Australian Government’s Productivity Commission has recently released their draft paper on the state of Australia’s intellectual property laws. The Commission took an interesting stance on the legality of geoblocking. The Commission recommended that current legislation should be amended to make it clear that circumventing geoblocking technology is not an infringement of copyright law. Futhermore, the Commission recommends that the Australian Government avoid entering into any international agreements which ban consumers from attempting to bypass geoblocking technology.

This position, and the report itself, made it clear that the Commission doesn’t believe aggressive litigation by rights holders against individuals who illegally download media, such as that attempted in the Dallas Buyer’s Club case, is the answer to reducing copyright infringement. The Commission also recognised that geoblocking technologies only serve to encourage discrimination between the availability and pricing of content between countries.

Whilst it is hardly a revelation to most consumers that they are often a victim of the ‘Australia tax’ when it comes to buying overseas content such as movies, games and music, it is somewhat refreshing to see the Commission take the side of the consumer in this respect, particularly in the midst of increasing lobbying by corporate right holders to crack down on copyright infringement. The Commission’s position is also in sharp contrast to previous Government supported policies attempting to punish consumers for the lack of content availability, such as the copyright legislation amendments which allowed rights holders to block Australian access to overseas hosted sites that encourage infringement and the defunct Communication’s Alliance scheme which would have required ISP’s to issue warning letters, restrict internet speeds and suspend accounts of infringers.

However, at the end of the day, it will be up to the overseas content providers to recognise, as the Commission’s report pointed out, that current evidence suggests many Australians are willing to forgo illegal downloading if providers stopped treating them like second class citizens and instead released content in a timely fashion and at a fair price.

The Commission is currently taking submissions on its draft report, with the final version expected to be handed down in August 2016.

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