Friday, April 29, 2016

Geoblocking encourages piracy and must end, Productivity Commission urges

Australian consumers should be able to legally circumvent geoblocking restrictions that block them from using foreign online streaming services like Netflix, according to the Productivity Commission.

In a draft report that urges a major overhaul of intellectual property laws, the Commission says geoblocking technology is "pervasive" and means Australians are offered a lower level of digital services locally and at a higher price.

Listen to my interview with the Productivity Commission's Karen Chester from this morning's AM

The report says Australian consumers should be able to access overseas streaming services like Netflix without the fear of infringing copyright laws and that the answer is not "big brother enforcement".

Read the full draft report

Karen Chester, a commissioner with the Productivity Commissioner, told AM that geoblocking restrictions have the opposite effect of encouraging internet piracy.

"Unless you've got a teenager that can help you get around the geoblocking, some people will be able to access and others won't," Ms Chester said.

"Those that won't will just breach copyright, do what we're all doing and get around the geoblock and access to the US Netflix or the Canadian Netflix.

"Making copyright material more accessible and more competitively priced online and not  geoblocking is the best antidote to copyright infringement."

Source: Productivity Commission
The practice of geoblocking blocks access on geographical borders but users circumvent the technology by setting up a virtual private network or VPN which masks their location and identity.

The Productivity Commission report says the Federal Government needs to send a clear message that it is not an infringement of copyright for consumers to evade geoblocking technology.

The government is also being urged to avoid entering international obligations or trade deals that support restrictions like geoblocking.

"People actually want to do the right thing. They're happy to pay for copyright but they want it now and they want it competitively priced," Ms Chester told AM.

Among a range of recommendations, the Productivity Commission says patents and copyright shelf lifes for books are no longer relevant to today's Internet connected world.

"You've got a system of intellectual property arrangements that were developed four centuries ago. Have they continued to keep up with the times?" Ms Chester said.

The report says copyright protection lasts too long and uses the example of an author writing a book today who lives for another 50 years being protected until 2136.

"Continuing to reward someone after they're resting in peace doesn't make a lot of sense," Ms Chester said.

Source: Productivity Commission

The Commission also wants an change to "fair use" provisions in copyright law saying the current laws are "too narrow and prescriptive" and don't reflect the way people consume content in today's digital world.

The report says updated fair use provisions would benefit schools, libraries and archives and would "foster certainty" for users.

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