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Choice encourages bypassing geo-blocks, Quickflix hits back

Consumer lobby group Choice is encouraging Australians to avoid geo-blocks, but Quickflix has hit back at the basis for its arguments.

Consumer lobby group Choice is encouraging Australians to avoid geo-blocks, but Quickflix has hit back at the basis for its arguments.

(Credit: Quickflix)

As reported by CNET's sister site ZDNet, earlier this week, Choice compared US streaming service Netflix with Australia's Foxtel and Quickflix, arguing that Australians are being ripped off. As part of its comparison, Choice went as far as to explicitly encourage Australians to circumvent geo-blocks to pay for access to overseas services.

ZDNet spoke with IT lawyer Matt Phipps, who suggested that while such streaming would not be in violation of Australian copyright law, it could be considered a crime in the US. A service could also opt to sue for breach of contract.

Quickflix hit back at Choice in a press release, arguing that it had been highly selective in its programming comparisons.

In its press statement, Quickflix took issue with Choice's description of Quickflix's service as "DVD mail-out, one at a time", and its apples-to-oranges comparison of streaming-only packages to streaming plus DVD mail-out services.

On one particularly obvious sore point, Choice used Netflix-exclusive series House of Cards and Arrested Development to show that Australian streaming options are lacking choice.

"Quickflix features award-winning HBO shows like Game of Thrones, True Blood, The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire that are not available to Netflix," said the statement. "Had the article focused on these titles, then the opposite would be true."

The key point of contention, of course, is geo-blocking and its avoidance.

"Geo-blocking is required by the studios and TV distributors who license their content on a country-by-country basis," said Quickflix in its statement.

There is no question that international content owners feel like they continue to make far more money through country-by-country licensing than by opening up the borders to direct consumer access. But the big question must remain on how long that can last in a digital world where such borders seem more and more arbitrary.

Whether it is consumers driving studios to a tipping point where piracy wins over borders, or Quickflix building its agreements to a point where it gives local users everything they want, or Netflix launching its service internationally (with full access to its entire library), something must give at some stage in the coming years.

But with Foxtel landing new exclusive agreements with the BBC and HBO in 2014, it seems that things might still just get worse before they get better.