Australians who have used digital backdoors to sign up for Netflix USA are reportedly at no greater risk of having their invalid accounts blocked, despite reports to the contrary.
Numerous media outlets have reported that the popular streaming service has been cracking down on those who use virtual private networks (VPNs) to deceive Netflix into allowing them access to US-only content.
The original article on Torrentfreak reported that Netflix had “started” to block access to those who bypass geolocation restrictions at the request of movie studios.
A spokesman for Netflix told The New Daily that the company has always tried to stamp out the practice of “geo-dodging”, which breaches its terms and conditions, but denied reports that a tougher crackdown was underway.
“The original story is not accurate. We haven’t changed anything in the way that we monitor VPN-ing,” the spokesman said.
“If Netflix catches someone doing it, obviously we [put a stop to it], but catching them in the first instance is tricky.
“Netflix employs measures to prevent that kind of use, but essentially if someone wants to do it they are going to do it,” he said.
A survey of 1,000 people conducted last year by Swinburne University found that one in five people had used some form of web proxy service, which disguises where in the world a computer is located, in order to download files from the internet.
Leaked emails from Sony, which provides content through the streaming website, have revealed that the company’s executives had pressed Netflix to “weed out” those using “illegal” VPNs.
In November 2013, as Sony was negotiating with Netflix for the rights to popular TV series Breaking Bad, the company’s president of international distribution Keith LeGoy singled out Australia as a prime example of a country where this “form of piracy” was effectively permitted to continue.
“Netflix do not closely monitor where some of their subscribers are registering from and don’t take steps to counter circumvention websites that allow people in, for example, Australia, to sign up to the US or the UK Netflix service and subscribe illegally,” Mr LeGoy wrote.
“We have asked Netflix to take steps to more closely monitor circumvention websites, and to restrict methods of payment to more closely weed out subscribers signing up for the service illegally.”
Accessing geoblocked content is not a criminal offence in Australia, although there is a very remote chance that those who do this could be sued by the owner of the movie or TV show they download.
VPN sites themselves are possibly illegal under copyright law and their owners run the risk of a criminal conviction and a fine up to $10,200, but VPN providers are located overseas, beyond the reach of Australian law.
UTS Communications Law Centre director Professor Michael Fraser told The New Daily that it is irresponsible to use — and promote the use of — VPNs because they breach the customer’s agreement with Netflix.
“I don’t think it’s responsible to pretend to be someone you are not. I understand why consumers are doing it, but it’s not right to encourage it. I think people ought to abide by the channels that are on offer,” Professor Fraser said.
“They have the right not to buy something, but they don’t have the right to circumvent these systems.”
Content owners do, however, owe it to their customers to make more content available, he said.
“Owners of content should continue to roll out models that are responsive to consumer demand. After all, these are people who are wanting to purchase their content and [content owners] should endeavour to develop models to satisfy that demand lawfully,” Professor Fraser said.
Consumer group CHOICE openly advocated the use of VPNs to avoid what it called the “Australia Tax”, and denied that doing so was irresponsible.
“At the end of the day, this is a very effective way for consumers to access the benefits of competition, so we stand by our position that Australians should be able to use VPNs to access competitive prices in international markets,” said CHOICE head of media Tom Godfrey.
The Australian version of Netflix is due to launch in March this year.