Geoblocking content must end, demands Choice


news Consumer advocacy group Choice has backed recommendations by the Productivity Commission to make copyright more consumer friendly and called for an end to geoblocking of Internet content.

If implemented, the Productivity Commission’s recommendations would see an end to companies blocking consumers based on location, and would allow shopping on international websites for products and services such as music, movies and clothing.

“The Productivity Commission has called out the fact that copyright in Australia overly favours owners and forgets about the rights and needs of consumers,” said Alan Kirkland, CEO of Choice.
”We’d like to see the Federal Government embrace the key recommendations of this report and end geoblocking by making it clear to consumers that they have a right to access international markets and services.”

“It’s time the era of geoblocking and digital discrimination ended. Consumers should no longer be restrained from accessing competition in international markets – and more accessible content benefits creators as well, being the best way to reduce piracy,” Kirkland added.

The Productivity Commission report calls for an overhaul of the existing user rights system, including the introduction of a broad, principles-based ‘fair use’ exception.

‘Fair use’ is a defence to copyright infringement found in some jurisdictions that allows use of all or part of copyrighted works under certain conditions. 
 In Australia, the legislation is widely considered to be not broad enough, outdated at a time of rapid technological change and creating uncertainty for both copyright holders and consumers.

“The fact is our copyright system is broken and imbalanced. It was designed for an age before Google, Netflix and countless other digital businesses that Australians have embraced,” said Kirkland.

“Right now, all sorts of everyday, ordinary behaviour is not allowed under Australian law. It can be an infringement of copyright for a teacher to do something as harmless as record a documentary to show their class,” he said.
“If we adopted a fair use defence, though, this sort of ordinary behaviour would be covered.”

Kirkland suggested it is time to “rebalance” Australia’s copyright system to make it “fair and flexible” and supportive of creators and consumers.

“The Productivity Commission makes it clear in its report that the copyright system is out of kilter, favouring big copyright owners over consumers. It’s time to fix this problem, by adopting the reforms and making the system work for everyone,” he said.

The Productivity Commission report also covered the potential risks associated with international trade agreements, and suggested that they could constrain Australia’s flexibility over its intellectual property policy.

The Commission recommended that Australia should not enter into any agreements that would restrict Australian consumers’ rights to circumvent geoblocks, or that would extend the copyright protection period for pharmaceutical products.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will impact on our intellectual property framework, further locking in lengthy protection periods and providing a boost for medical patent holders at the expense of Australian consumers and patients,” said Kirkland.

“This is exactly the sort of trade agreement that the Productivity Commission warns against, and the Federal Government has yet to release any independent cost-benefit analysis that would justify entering into the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he concluded.

Image credit: Netflix


    • The thing is, if Australia changed it’s copyright laws to make all wholesaled content available to all comers via a FRAND system, then the issue of Geo-Blocking would vanish almost overnight as you would no longer have Foxtel etc being able to lock up exclusive content.

      The only way anyone would be able to lock up exclusive content would be if they develop it themselves (eg Netflix, ABC etc), but as soon as they make it available on the wholesale market the FRAND laws would kick in.

      This would also have the positive side effect of forcing VoD providers to develop their own content as a product differentiation strategy.

      • That sounds remarkably familiar ;-)

        I am in complete agreement. Short period of exclusive time for content the publisher has developed themselves (significantly developed, ie more than 50% of the cost), then opened up and FRAND as you say.

        Content is by its nature a monopoly. Allowing open distribution reduces the monopoly and allows consumers choice, in that they can go to which ever service that they like, rather than being forced into one that may be onerous.
        And in addition the short period monopoly for content creators inspires investment in creation by the distributors.

        • It does indeed, I think we hashed out this idea after a previous article covering the content mafia.

    • Netflix primarily seem to be on the same side of the argument as Choice. Netflix’s geo-blocking is as a result of demands from the owners of the content they license.

      A counter-example is actual Netflix content that’s geo-blocked (there’s a specific example that’s been discussed recently-ish) which is as a result of licensing the show prior to Netflix coming to Australia. I’d assume this will no longer be an issue once the contract period ends.

      Netflix or YouTube or Hulu or whoever else are beholden to their suppliers wishes. It’s the suppliers that are the problem – which is why the streaming services look to create their own content in the first place (usurp the suppliers).

      • Considering Netflix has been badgered by content ‘producers’ ad nauseum they’ve pretty well always dragged their feet with the whole its too hard it doesn’t work. That the major VPN players rarely have any issues (not sure about recent) in the past is a good example of them getting why ‘iTunes works’ etc.

    • @Michael Wyres the government has plenty of influence. Pretty much every music and movie company that are restricting our access to their content have subsidiaries in Australia, and also there is nothing stopping the Government just plain slapping huge fines on them and their subsidiaries.

      Much the same as the EU slaps fines on google and Microsoft for anti-competitive practices.

      Australia has long history of telling the likes of Sony that region coding/geoblocking is illegal here in Australia.

      Our problem is the media moguls like Rupert Murdoch has far too much influence on politicians like Malcolm Turnbull. The sooner Rupert is pulled into line (like the News of the world scandal), the sooner we will have a level playing field.

      Of course “Australia” will have lost hundreds of billions of dollars in the mean time, while things like Turnbull’s nobbled NBN will need to be built again properly.

    • You’re mistaking this a bit.. it’s not Netflix that’s the problem. It’s the publishers/right holders

      It’s the different rites holders on different regions/areas that cause geo blocking by forcing Netflix to stop airing specific shows/movies because they would loose out on controlling the content.

      Netflix just provides the content. You can legislate this all you want to try and make Netflix do it but it would put them in direct conflict w/ these publishers and whatnot who probably would just snub said law and say they own the license to the show and therefore under no obligation to resell said product.

      • Netflix has really upped the ante on geoblocking. I find it difficult to believe the amount and cost of technology to achieve he current level of geoblocking would have been instigated by Netflix.

        It must be supplied and paid for by the movie companies trying to hold onto their outdated business models.

  1. There was a Kotaku article the other day about the author not feeling guilty for downloading Game of Thrones – he had tried to pay for it, been given an inferior product at a premium price point that was seriously faulty. If we could access the HBO streaming service directly, it would be such an improvement over the crappy quality on offer from Foxtel. It’s ridiculous that you have to pay an extra $10/month for HD!!

    • It’s ridiculous for us as informed and knowledgeable people regarding technology. It’s not ridiculous for Foxtel as they’re able to make more money out of it. If it wasn’t profitable they wouldn’t do it. All it means is that enough customers accept the situation such that the status quo shall remain.

      Until Foxtel’s bottom line is truly under threat, I wouldn’t expect their streaming service to compete with Netflix on any level (UX, stability, efficiency). Streaming is Netflix’s bread and butter. Foxtel’s bread and butter is old-school pay-tv. Foxtel is moving towards streaming, but the market penetration for their customer base just doesn’t justify competing with Netflix on an equal footing. Yet.

    • The worst part about Foxtel’s HD is the quality. If you are watching the less popular HD channels the quality is shocking, especially for such a expensive “premium” product.

  2. And that is why so many people are luddite of the situation.

    What you need to be asking is for Murdoch’s reign must end stealing the rights. Telstra is abandoning Foxtel so that is a start.

    Seriously come on, bring the content locally. Lifting Geo blocking will do nothing. Paying for streaming content from america is the most stupid thing ever and a waste of money.

    Why do you think they have a data centre in Alexandria ?

    Wisen up and talk sense.

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