Newscorp owned The Australian is Australia’s bestselling newspaper, but it caused controversy today by claiming (paywall) that the estimated 50 to 200 thousand Australians who use VPN to access Netflix movies are pirates, even though they pay for the service.
Australia gets the short end of the stick when it comes to accessing media readily available elsewhere, and even when available the content is invariably more expensive. One particular bone of contention is popular movie and TV streaming service Netflix, which is blocked in Australia thanks to exclusive deals made between Hollywood studios and Aussie media giant Newscorp (owners, oddly enough, of The Australian).
While many Aussies have turned to outright piracy to access the content they desire (putting them near the top of the charts for copyright-infringing downloading of popular shows such as Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad), many others use VPN services to geo-spoof their location, and pay for US Netflix subscriptions.
Both US studios and Australian media companies are unhappy about this state of affairs though, as it undermines their monopolies and control of the market,
‘The studios have licensed Netflix to distribute content on particular terms in the US and other larger markets, they haven’t licensed Netflix for Australia. I have no doubt that the studios are in discussions with Netflix about VPNs because it is blatantly in breach of terms and Netflix is essentially getting a free ride into Australia,’ said Stephen Langsford, chief executive of Aussie Netflix-alike firm Quickflix.
Australian Netflix users can however draw some comfort from the words of (then) Attorney-General Robert McClelland back in 2011,
‘In relation to the use of VPNs by Australians to access services such as Hulu and Netflix, on the limited information provided there does not appear to be an infringement of copyright law in Australia’.
Fortunately there is very little that can be done to stop Aussies viewing Netflix via VPN, so hopefully the situation will compel all concerned parties to provide good legal alternatives instead (such as allowing Netflix to operate above-board in Australia).
Accessing Netflix is particularly easy as all that is required is to evade the IP blocks in place (using VPN or a DNS service). Netflix no longer requires a US bank card to subscribe, so Australian customers can sign up using just their own credit cards.