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HBO Now locks out Australian VPN users over unauthorised use

When HBO launched its online streaming service, "Game of Thrones" fans welcomed the chance to stream the show direct from the source. Now, they're being told their accounts will be deactivated.

HBO Now was announced as an Apple TV exclusive in March. CNET

As Australian internet users flock to virtual private networks in droves to access geoblocked content, HBO Now is warning non-US users that they will be locked out of the content streaming service this week.

The service launched in the United States just in time for the fifth season premiere of "Game of Thrones" and offered users the chance to stream this and other HBO shows without a standard cable connection.

Apple sealed an exclusive deal on the service, meaning that all account holders would have to access HBO Now via Apple TV for the first three months from launch -- accounting for the entirety of the "Game of Thrones" Season 5 run.

While limited to Apple TV, Australian users were able to access the streaming service by using a VPN and a US iTunes account, which also allowed them to get their hands on the free 30-day trial.

Now, Fairfax reports that Australian users have received warning letters they are not authorised to use the service and that their accounts will be deactivated without further notice.

It has come to our attention that you may have signed up for and viewed video content on the HBO NOW streaming service from outside of the authorized service area (the United States, including D.C. and certain US territories).

We would like to take this opportunity to remind you that the HBO NOW streaming service is only available to residents of the United States, for use within the United States. Any other access is prohibited by our Terms of Use.

The email advises that if users are watching the service inside the US and have "met the eligibility requirements" for using HBO Now, they can contact the company to continue accessing the service.

However, the company warns, "If we do not hear from you by April 21, we will proceed with deactivating your HBO Now account without further notice to you."

Account holders have begun taking to reddit and Whirlpool forums to complain about the notices, with one reddit user saying it was "a masterclass in how to turn a paying customer into a pirate."

Many Australian Internet users have heralded HBO Now as a way to avoid piracy by accessing and paying for legitimate content -- especially "Game of Thrones," which is only available at launch in Australia through Foxtel -- and it is not the first service to attract users away from home for this very reason.

Similar issues arose around access to Netflix in Australia, with as many as 200,000 Australians subscribing to the service before it launched in Australia.

However, just as there is demand from consumers, there is also opposition from rights holders who lock down specific rights deals for different regions and who miss out on revenues when international users skirt around geoblocks to access their content.

Leaked emails from Sony Pictures Entertainment emerged on Wikileaks last week shedding light on this issue, revealing that Sony lobbied Netflix to lock out international users from the service. Sony Pictures president of distribution Keith Le Goy, described this kind of international geo-dodging as "in effect another form of piracy -- one semi-sanctioned by Netflix."

As Australians face new laws monitoring their online movements and the threat of overseas site blocking, VPN use is only expected to increase, leading to more questions about how Australians access content and the services they use to do it.

HBO did not immediately respond to request for comment.