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Big Content wants Aussies blocked from Netflix

Be careful what you wish for

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Australia's television rights-holders are increasingly agitating against locals accessing Netflix by presenting apparently-US IP addresses to the streaming service.

In short order, Quickflix (which has been working for some time to sign up local ISPs to carry its content) and TV broadcasters have been taking their case to journalists: local Netflix users are “pirates” (The Australian), and the company is “turning a blind eye to copyright infringement” in this country (The Australian Financial Review).

Here's another salient quote from News Corporation's The Australian: Netflix is “flouting international regulations by accepting payments from Australian credit cards”. Exactly what international regulation is “flouted” by an Australian paying an American with an Australian-issued credit card is unclear to The Register.

(Note: since both publishers have paywalls in place, The Register isn't going to encourage readers to infringe copyright by searching headlines like “More Netflix pirates on board” or “Quickflix chief hits out at Netflix’s Aussie free ride in TV streaming battle”).

Rights-holders have sold the idea that while an Australian can buy a genuine DVD of Game of Thrones in California while on holidays, carry it home and play it without breaking the law (for now), but when an Australia buys bits (with, mind you, a slice for the rights-holders) instead of a DVD, they're pirates.

Apart from the vexed question of just how much copyright “infringement” or “piracy” is taking place, the push is a reminder of the IP battle being waged in the negotiating halls of the Trans Pacific Partnership.

The secret treaty text has been criticised not only for its escalation of copyright infringement to a criminal offence, but for its attempt to undermine parallel import laws in countries like Australia, and give rights-holders the power to authorise all imports.

This government has shown itself remarkably sympathetic to rights-holders: attorney-general George Brandis has, for example, has used the “copying is theft” theme in a public speech. But this isn't something that government can fix, unless it wants to tell ISPs to block the use of VPNs, which is unlikely inasmuch as they have many legitimate uses.

There are three courses of action open to Netflix: it can ignore the demands from rights-holders; it can try to block VPN access and alienate users in a large number of countries; or it can set up in Australia.

The content owners should be careful what they wish for. ®

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