ISPs in New Zealand to be sued by TV companies for offering VPN services

When a couple of ISPs in New Zealand decided to start offering built-in VPN services around two years ago, British holidaymakers and ex-pats were suddenly able to start enjoying content on Netflix, 4OD, and BBC iPlayer that would have otherwise been geo-restricted.

While many consumers resort to piracy to catch up on their favorite TV show, the premise behind this move was to allow people in New Zealand to use their ISP’s built-in VPN service to legally appear to be somewhere else – in order to view or sign up for services (such as Netflix) that were otherwise unavailable.  Now CallPlus and Bypass Network Services are facing legal action from media giants Sky and TVNZ for allowing users to access and buy geo-restricted content that otherwise simply would not otherwise be available in New Zealand.

Here at BestVPN, we all know that consumers worldwide are getting wiser day after day to the availability of VPN services that obscure IP addresses and allow for region hopping in order to access content which is unavailable in their country, or that they have paid for and want to access while they are on the move. It is not all about piracy, some people simply want to pay for services that reside in different countries.

In New Zealand, for example, Kiwis paying for Netflix get around 220 television series and 900 movies, whereas in the US customers get around 940 television series and 6170 movies – a vast difference!  It is no wonder then, that built-in VPN services have been welcomed by consumers in who simply want to pay for and enjoy content that otherwise they might have to Pirate.

Unfortunately, this legitimized VPN route has suddenly come under fire, with all of the Kiwi ISPs that were offering such services receiving letters earlier this month from Sky, TVNZ, Lightbox and Media Works, ordering them to cease and desist.  Within days of the letters (which claimed copyright breach as a reason to begin court proceedings), one of the ISPs, Unlimited Internet, pulled its VPN service for fear of the legal repercussions.

In a brave (but perhaps silly) move, CallPlus and Bypass Network Services have decided not to cave in just yet to the media giants’ demands, claiming that they are not doing anything wrong. In fact, Bypass CEO Patrick Jordan Smith wrote to the media companies saying,

To receive without warning a grossly threatening legal letter like that from four of the largest companies in New Zealand is not something we are used to.  It smacks of bullying to be honest, especially since your letter doesn’t actually say why you think we are breaching copyright.’

Unfortunately for Jordan-Smith, however, we saw this coming from a mile away, because the media industry and its watchdogs have for some time now been under the illusion that ISPs should be the ones policing the internet for piracy and copyright breaches, not helping their customers to get the best possible service that they can. Yet this is exactly what an ISP should be doing – after all, ISPs do not make music or movies, they provide internet access, and they are in competition with one another for customers.

Consumers choose different companies because those companies offer differing services, and the obvious fact is that at no point is it in an ISP’s interests to police their users.  It is like going in a coffee shop, only to have them tell you that you can’t sip your coffee and must glug it only! You would simply stop going to that particular coffee shop and start going to another one that did allow sipping. It is the same with ISPs – they are in competition with each other.

In Ireland ISPs have been forced to start policing the internet using a 3 strikes and you are out system, while in the US a similar graduated response system is in place, with six strikes before you are banned.  Considering this fact, it is no wonder that ISPs in New Zealand, with their tailored VPN services that allow customers to bypass geo restriction to enjoy content that media companies simply do not want them accessing, have been ordered to stop.

Rightly, Patrick Jordan-Smith likens the threatening letters to the speculative invoicing letters that are often sent out in America to people that have pirated movies, as in the case of Dallas Buyers Club,

‘Your letter gets pretty close to the speculative invoicing type letters that lawyers for copyright owners sometimes send in the US ‘pay up or shut down or else were are going to sue you’! Not fair,’ he observes.

‘We have been providing the Global Mode facility for 2 years. In all that time, none of your Big Media Gang have ever written to us. We assumed they were OK with Global Mode and we continued to spend money innovating the facility and providing innovative NZ ISPs with a service that their customers were telling them they wanted – a service that lets people pay for content rather than pirate it’

Unfortunately for Bypass Network Services and New Zealanders alike, this staunch stance is unlikely to do anything but delay the inevitable, as the media companies push forward with their threat and bring lawsuits to the uncooperative companies as soon as possible. As TVNZ chief executive, Kevin Kenrick says,

‘Each of our businesses invests significant sums of money into the rights to screen content sourced legitimately from the creators and owners of that copyrighted material. This is being undermined by the companies who profit from promoting illegitimate ways to access that content. Our position has not changed and unless they remove the unlawful service we will begin court action in the next few days.’

The outcome of the lawsuits will sadly, more than likely, be an end to built-in VPN services for Kiwi ISPs. For those people that have already paid for a UK or US Netflix account, it will simply mean having to move over to one of the many VPN providers that we take the time to review for you here at BestVPN.

As such the lawsuits will be both a waste of money and time for the media companies, and a loss for New Zealand ISPs (which have invested time and money into improving and advertising their VPN products), but will come at zero real cost to Kiwi consumers who will be able to carefully choose and continue to use one of the many VPN services around to access geo restricted content. Hallelujah.

Ray Walsh I am a freelance journalist and blogger from England. I am highly interested in politics and in particular the subject of IR and I am an advocate for freedom of speech, equality and personal privacy. On a more personal level I like to stay active, love snowboarding, swimming and cycling, enjoy seafood and love to listen to trap music.

Related Coverage

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *