Gee, thanks Hollywood. In a bid to protect their rights at all costs — including the cost of consumers' legitimate rights — major movie studios are reportedly pressuring Netflix to block VPN (Virtual Private Network) users from accessing its U.S. site.
The reason? The major studios are upset that up to 200,000 Aussies are accessing Netflix U.S. by using VPNs to hide their geographic locations, thus violating the studios' content ownership rights.
The Aussies do this by signing into VPNs with U.S. sign-in sites. They then connect these Down Underites to the Netflix U.S. site just as if they were Americans... which they are not. With Netflix due to launch an Australian service, the studios want to ensure that Australians are only watching content that has been sold to the Australian market, and that the studios are getting paid for it.
Confirmation of the movie industry's pressure tactics came from the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association (AHEDA), whose members include Warner Brothers, Roadshow, and Universal Sony Pictures. According to AHEDA CEO Simon Bush, some AHEDA members are pressuring Netflix to block all VPN access, from anywhere on the globe.
"I know the discussions are being had...by the distributors in the United States with Netflix about Australians using VPNs to access content that they're not licensed to access in Australia," Bush told CNET.com. Apparently the studios don't want Netflix to block VPN access when its Australian service launches some months from now. Instead, "They're requesting for it to be blocked now," said Bush, "not just when it comes to Australia."
If Netflix does block VPN access, it will also block all those U.S.-based VPN users who employ VPNs to protect their identities on less-than-secure Internet, or for any other number of legitimate uses.
That's not all: VPNs can help Netflix viewers counter data throttling or other traffic jams by companies such as Verizon FiOS. This fact was proven by Customer.io CEO and co-founder Colin Nederkoorn in July. If VPNs are subsequently blocked, Netflix will be effectively abetting throttling efforts, no matter what Netflix may say in public.
Should Netflix give into the movie studios' demands — and it has good reason to want to keep its content suppliers happy — it won't be the first OTT content provider to do so. Hulu began blocking VPN access back in April, despite the impact this action had on its legitimate VPN-using U.S. subscribers. It is not known how many of them have fought back by using the "How to unblock Hulu" advice offered by BestVPN.com.
Time will tell if Netflix folds to the movie industry and blocks VPN access, or not. But one thing is clear: Yet again the deep-pocketed entertainment industry is trying to protect their rights while stomping on the rights of others, namely U.S. Netflix subscribers who happen to use VPNs. This is not what is meant by the term "moral high ground."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.