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  • Vicki McKenzie

Is Geo Blocking Legal?

Have you ever tried to purchase a product online, only to be diverted to a different site at the "checkout" that shows a different, HIGHER, price than you were shown on the original site? Or have you tried to watch a movie or series on youtube or other channel, only to be redirected to a pay to view site after the teaser?

I recently watched the movie Kokoda for the first time - I was actually sent the link from a friend in Serbia who was so impressed with the movie and story, and equally shocked hearing that I had not seen it. It did have Serbian subtitles but they were not a distraction, only the oh so slow speed was annoying to me, and we all experience this even with NBN. (a friend in UK who has barely 3mps speed has more responsive and stable internet than we have at 15mps)

Here in Australia we can not watch these movies free due to GEO BLOCKING on our networks. You can pay Netflix, Foxtel or other equally expensive providers for the privilege, but if you try to access channels outside our country, who do have the right to view them for free, well you just can't - it is BLOCKED. International digital agencies seem to think that Australians are better off than other developed countries so they too make us pay more to buy products on line like phones, cameras and other appliances from their sites, just because they can.

If you are old enough to remember the commencement of official transmission of television in Australia, in September 1956 you required a viewer licence. From 1 January 1957 TV viewers were required to pay 5 pounds for their viewing pleasure and an additional 2 pounds 15 shillings for radio. Non-payment was a punishable offence with fines of up to 50 pounds. By the 1970s, combined TV and radio licences could be purchased for $26.50.

With ongoing pressure about the inequity of the costs across the community and the heavy cost of policing compliance, the then Whitlam Government decided on 18 September 1974 to abolish radio and TV licences, still the complaints mounted. Australian viewers may well be able to sympathise with viewers in the UK who still have to pay a "licence" fee just to watch television, we in Australia call FREE TO AIR. The money raised provides the BBC with 75% of its funds. While on the other side of the channel in most of Europe, residents are able to watch the BBC and other UK channels for free.

According to Wikipedia - "Geoblocking is a form of Internet censorship where access to content is restricted based upon the user's geographical location. In a geo blocking scheme, the user's location is calculated using geolocation techniques, such as checking the user's IP address against a blacklist or whitelist; the result of this check is used to determine whether the system will approve or deny access to the content. The term is most commonly associated with its use to restrict access to premium multimedia content on the internet, such as films and television shows, primarily for copyright and licensing reasons. There are other uses for geoblocking, such as blocking malicious traffic or to enforce price discrimination, location-aware authentication, fraud prevention, and online gambling (where gambling laws vary by region)."

Even Choice have addressed this issue back in 2014 by publishing "Bypassing geo-blocked sites - Breaking down the virtual wall – how to avoid online international price discrimination". So should we really be buying into a practice that in fact could potentially be illegal?

I am happy to accept blocking of malicious traffic, but the rest, even gambling, is a person's right to choose. Even to a point movies, music and general gaming and entertainment, they too need to pay for their products. But Geoblocking as used to enforce price discrimination within online stores, forcing users to buy products online from a foreign version of a site where prices may be unnecessarily higher than those of their domestic version is just criminal. The "Australia Tax" has led to pressure on our government to restrict how geoblocking can be used in this manner in Australia.

About a year or so ago, a friend of mine in the USA, purchased a Steel Series gamers headset for me and posted it, at a total cost of AU$80.32 inclusive of postage. For me to purchase this product from the same provider here in Australia, I was quoted $369.00 + postage (currently on special for $249), no wonder people search for products outside Australia.

There are people here in Australia who are fighting to make this illegal and according to ACCC we have a RIGHT TO CHOOSE - but apparently we do not.

Many Australians use a VPN to access Netflix, HBO and other channels in the US. Is it illegal?

  • "The Copyright Act does not make it illegal to use a VPN to access overseas content.

  • While content providers often have in place international commercial arrangements to protect copyright in different countries or regions, which can result in ‘geoblocking’, circumventing this is not illegal under the Copyright Act.”

Virtual Private Networks (or VPNs) can also give you a new IP address that says you are overseas instead of your true location. VPNs work by encrypting and tunnelling all of your internet traffic through a server located overseas. This can also be great for your privacy (internet surfing is hidden, even from your ISP and government agencies) but can slow down your other internet due to the speed capabilities of the VPN computer server. Another disadvantage is that Smart TVs and Blu-ray players can’t use VPNs.

I personally am not advocation or selling this practice, but if you want the best of both, you can choose a service provider that offers smart DNS and VPN packages.

Should geo blocking be illegal in Australia? CLICK HERE to have your say.

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