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​Drop the geoblocks: Government and content industry put on notice

A new report says Aussies are paying too much for lacklustre digital services, calling on the Government to make things clear: Skirting around geoblocks is not against the law.


The Productivity Commission is calling for a massive overhaul of Australia's copyright system.

Productivity Commission

Australians are being slugged with higher prices for less content and lower quality digital services, thanks to the "pervasive" use of geoblocking technology in Australia -- and it's time for the Government to put a stop to it.

That's according to a new draft report on Intellectual Property Arrangements, released by the Productivity Commission.

The Productivity Commission's 601-page report had some tough words for Australia's content industry and Government regulators. The key takeout? Copyright restrictions aren't doing any favours to Aussie consumers.

"The use of geoblocking technology is pervasive, and frequently results in Australian consumers being offered a lower level of digital service (such as a more limited music or TV streaming catalogue) at a higher price than in overseas markets," the report read.

The PC argues that geoblocking does nothing more than enable rights holders and their intermediaries to "segment the Internet into different markets," and consumers are losing out.

Acknowledging that some "digital savvy consumers" use virtual private networks (VPNs) to skirt geoblocks, many Internet users are forced to pay "inflated prices for lower standard services."

Geoblocking is common practice in the content industry, with streaming services such as Netflix using them as a means to manage rights arrangements in different countries. These deals are in turn set by content owners, who ensure a maximum return for their product by shoring up different licensing deals in different regions. Some content owners even go so far as saying the skirting of geoblocks is "illegal."

But consumer rights group Choice says geoblocks amount to "digital discrimination" and they must go.

"Consumers should no longer be restrained from accessing competition in international markets -- and more accessible content benefits creators as well, being the best way to reduce piracy," the lobby group said in response to the PC report.

The PC says the Government must make its position clear.

"The Australian Government should make clear that it is not an infringement of Australia's copyright system for consumers to circumvent geoblocking technology and should seek to avoid international obligations that would preclude such practices," it wrote in the report.

But with rights holders controlling the content that gets distributed, and streaming providers wanting to keep content owners on side to secure the best titles and lure customers to pay for their service, it may be some time before geoblocks go for good.