Big Media Companies Insist That VPN Services Violate Copyright Law

from the fighting-the-tide dept

Back during the SOPA fight, in a discussion with someone who was working with the politicians pushing SOPA, I pointed out that such a law would encourage much more encryption — and the response was “that’s no problem, because we’ll just ban encryption next.” As stupid and impossible as such a statement is, it shows the mindset of some copyright extremists. Thus, it should be no surprise that they’re actually starting down just such a path in New Zealand. As we noted last year, Kiwi ISPs, frustrated that their users kept running up against geoblocks, have started offering VPN services that get around geoblocks as a standard feature there. Basically, this is nothing more than a recognition that the internet really is global and attempts to pretend otherwise are pretty fruitless.

However, the big media companies are not happy about this turn of events. A week or so ago, a bunch of them (Lightbox, MediaWorks, SKY, and TVNZ) teamed up to threaten New Zealand ISPs that if they didn’t stop offering “global mode” VPN services to customers, that the media companies would sue — arguing that merely offering such a service was copyright infringement. The letter is full of the usual bluster:

?Offshore providers, such as Netflix US, Hulu, Amazon Prime and BBC iplayer do not have the right to exploit the copyright works in New Zealand,? the letter says. Licenses they hold apply only to specific overseas locations and prohibit customers from circumventing geo-blocking measures and other content protections.

That may be true, but whether or not those companies are operating in New Zealand is not an issue that is of concern to the ISPs, who are providing internet access to the entire internet. If Netflix US, Hulu, Amazon and the BBC were the ones sneaking around the geoblocks, the companies might have a point. But arguing that merely offering a VPN service to users somehow violates the law seems like a crazy interpretation of copyright laws.

But, of course, crazy interpretations of copyright laws are the norm these days, and there are always some lawyers who will insist the media companies have a case, such as the lawyer quoted in that article. The basic argument seems to be a variation on felony interference of a business model:

The four are claiming that Global Mode, offered by Slingshot and Orcon, and similar services offered by other providers, are ?unlawful? for several reasons.

Top of the list is infringement of the Copyright Act 1994, ?either directly or as a joint tortfeasor?.

The four are also claiming the services are unlawful in providing ?misleading representations? in stating or implying ?without a proper basis? that it is lawful for New Zealand based users of the services to access content from the offshore providers, and that ?circumvention of geo-blocking measures in this way is permitted by New Zealand law (just like parallel importing of DVDs)?.

The four are also claiming that use of the services constitutes a clear breach of the terms and conditions of the offshore providers ? being the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer.

From a loose reading of this it seems like they’re really arguing three things: (1) that offering such a service is a form of “inducement” to infringement, (2) that this is a form of circumvention of restrictions, which violates anti-circumvention clauses and (3) that this violates the terms of those video services.

The third argument is meaningless since that’s an issue between those services and the ISPs, not the media companies and the ISPs. The first one seems like a stretch but probably depends on a few factors, including how the services are marketed and whether or not merely viewing geoblocked content is a form of direct infringement (which seems like a stretch to me). The circumvention issue also seems like a stretch, but may depend on the specifics of New Zealand’s Copyright Act, which I’m not as familiar with. You can read it here though to see which sections might apply.

Either way, with the threat looming, at least one ISP has caved, saying it’s not worth the fight:

Unlimited Internet director Ben Simpson says that while his company doesn?t necessarily agree with that assertion, it has taken down the service nonetheless.

?Geo-unblocking services are a direct result of consumer demand for access to content that is not made available to the New Zealand market,? Simpson says.

?To be on the safe side, we have taken legal advice on this matter and I have made a firm call that we will sit on the sideline until a legal precedent has been set.?

Of course, whether or not offering such a service technically violates copyright law is kind of besides the point, as the very idea that offering such a service should be against the law is crazy. Such services provide real value to consumers not just in getting around pointless geoblocks, but also in protecting privacy. Trying to outlaw VPN services like that just to protect obsolete business models of media companies pretending the world is not global these days, just seems like yelling at the tide. But, given that it’s big old media companies we’re dealing with, they still haven’t figured out that going with the tide is much easier than ordering it not to come in…

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Companies: lightbox, mediaworks, orcon, sky, slingshot, tvnz, unlimited internet

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Comments on “Big Media Companies Insist That VPN Services Violate Copyright Law”

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75 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Part of the problem is that Big Media loves charging places like Australia and New Zealand more for the same content, just because they can. People getting around geoblocks to pay at the lower USA rates, instead of the higher Australian or New Zealand rates means less money for the copyright folks.

Naturally this upsets the media people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Having a licensing system is just another point of attack for them.
They can’t outright pay to ban VPN because it’s widely used for businesses and other legitimate reason.
So they need to create a chink in the armor by way of licensing. Once licensing is in place, they can use it as their way in to go after copyright infringement by identifying users. Then their copyright blackmail trolling can begin renewed.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think requiring licensing for encryption, rather than banning encryption is what was discussed.

No, that’s not what’s being discussed.

There are legitimate uses for encryption. As well as illegitimate and criminal uses.

With all due respect, FUCK THE HELL OFF!!!11

Me using crypto is not any of YOUR DAMNED BUSINESS!!!11 Nor is it anyone else’s damned business, damnit. Do you grok “private conversation”? People used to understand that two people whispering to each other should be avoided until they were done whispering. We used to believe private conversations should be left private. What’s your fscking problem?!?

You’re an ignorant twit, methinks.

Anonymous Coward says:

no surprise with this statement. the entertainment industries will not be happy until they have gained total control of the internet or screwed it up so completely that no one can use it. they want the option of deciding who can use the internet and what they can do with it. they are trying to set up a ‘tribunal’ sort of thing that will decide if a person has violated the entertainment industries rules, even if there is no evidence against that person! this has been the aim all along, but every time i say as much, it gets shouted down. why the hell would any industry spend so much time and so much money, achieving so little monetary wise during that time unless there was a greater fruit to be won at the end? and dont forget, this VPN business being a perfect example, that these industries are not interested in which businesses get closed down or lose customers while they are after their goal! how any country can back an industry that does so little for it or for itself, pays virtually no money in taxation, employs virtually no one when producing their end product out of studios, influences so many laws that have been in place for decades (innocent until proven guilty being swapped around being the classic example) and punishes so many for doing so little, is beyond belief! if there isn’t a mass standup against these industries, the internet and the planet are going to be run by an industry that exists by dreaming up something unbelievable. great until something serious happens!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I haven’t heard of any politician who doesn’t love being next to a celebrity & New Zealand isn’t any different.

Remember it was only a few years back that the Key Government caved in to allow the movie studios to offer the part time causal workers on the Hobbitt movies less than the award wages, just because someone rich & famous told them they would shoot the films elsewhere, & that was a New Zealand citizen making that threat.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You knuckleheads don’t seem to get it.

The corporations will embark on their ridiculous campaigns no matter how well they’re doing. A lack of demand will simply let the corporations say “See, there is a lack of demand because people are pirating, therefore please allow us to sue all of them.”

Case in point, how many people actually watched Dallas Buyers Club? Most people here haven’t. That’s not stopping Voltage from visiting other countries to demand money from random people.

Mega1987 (profile) says:

VPN does WUT?

how does changing your Internet Protocol Via VPNs VIOLATES copyright law?

wait…
don’t tell the that they thought the IP on VPN means Intellectual Property?

ugh…

IP(Intellectual Property) Is DIFFERENT from IP(Internet Protocol)!!!!

you guys seriously don’t NEED to replace a valid term in the IT/ComSci department with that something that’s NOT even RELATED to the term…

Ed Allen (profile) says:

When does the illegality appear ?

So, is me renting a server in the US illegal ?
No.
Can I sign up for Netflix US to deliver movies to it ?
Yes.
Still nothing illegal ?
No.
My server in the US can encrypt streams to my Desktop in NZ.
Since that data is encrypted my ISP does not know anything about what
it is or where it came from. So they cannot be sued ?
No.
Since the encryption was Open Source and only I have the key you cannot know
what is in that data either. Anything you can charge me with yet ?
No.
Since I obtained that content legally are you now saying it became
illegal when I sent bits from the US to NZ ?
That is what we would prefer.
Under what rationale ?

Since nobody but me knows what is in those bits how can you PROVE I owe you anything ?

Those bits could really be video of my friend visiting the Grand Canyon. The only way you
have of proving they are not is by compelling me to give you the key. I tell you now
that I will not volunteer the key. Are you going to ask for the right to torture me
for that key ?
We might.
If I die under torture is that “justice” ?

David says:

IP address != location

While an IP block may indicate a location, there is no guarantee that it does. I had a friend that worked at Ericcson (a Swedish company) in the same US city I did, and her mail appeared to come from and get sent to Sweden.

Just like you can get a VoIP or Google Voice number anywhere in the US, even though you aren’t even near there, IP addresses are ‘transportable’ like that, too.

They are basing restrictions on a non-absolute test.

Anonymous Coward says:

It baffels me still...

that so many people want to ruin the best opportunity the world has ever had.
I am not just talking about money here, but the worlds greatest library. The greatest opportunity for understanding each other across borders. The internet is probably the single greatest global achievement the world has ever made, and we made it together.
Yes, there is violence, trolls, arguments and silly pictures a plenty… but this is also the best insight into different cultures and people that we have ever had.
The internet is not just the 8’th wonder of the world, it is greater than the others combined… and still some people are only interested in tearing it down. How sad these people are.

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course, my servers are in the United States, are are not subject to New Zealand law. Circumvention of geoblocking is not illegal in America at this time, and since my servers are in my apartment in the United States, New Zealand laws does not apply. I only recognise United States laws over my servers, and nothing else.

DB (profile) says:

A different viewpoint is that these companies want to reserve the economic benefit of globalization for themselves.

They have no problem with global outsourcing of call centers, post-production, animation, pressing DVDs, etc. Nor with routing revenue through unrelated countries to evade taxes. It all about having access to the lowest cost of production.

But these same companies are trying to limit consumers to buying only through tightly controlled distribution channels. Even if it’s not their content, they want to block it — they don’t want consumers to have access to the world market.

We expect a worker in Seattle to compete with a worker in Thailand, and to take less pay if that’s what it takes. But we want to enforce that the Seattle worker pays $250 for a textbook instead of $8, pays $15 for a DVD instead of under $1, and 20x for prescription drugs.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's not VPN - Slingshot customer.

Just to clarify a few things, I’m a customer of Slingshot, I’ve got global mode and it’s not a VPN at all. My IP address doesn’t appear in the US or Europe like a VPN, it displays as Christchurch, or Auckland. (I’m in neither of those places, I’m outside Wellington).
It allows me access to Netflix, Hulu and iPlayer but not much else. The new ‘Community’ on Yahoo is geoblocked, as are comedy central and most embedded video’s that others can’t watch. It’s pretty much useless unless you are after those few things.
This is important though, as NZ copyright law has a chapter on DRM, and when and how you are allowed to circumvent it.
If content is available here in one form then the law allows us to disable DRM on other forms of the same content, this is why all DVD players sold here have the code in the box to disable the regions. NZ copyright law is very different than US law, don’t conflate the two.

Also Netflix is the same price here as it is in the US ( in NZD ). The local competition that’s sprung up lately is costing double, and because of prior deals Netflix doesn’t have House of Cards or OITNB.
Netflix’s modus here seems to be that they don’t need to operate in NZ at any profit as the account globally, so sadly the competition won’t last here for long.

CynicalChris (profile) says:

Re: It's not VPN - Slingshot customer.

If anyone is reading the act linked to above, the relevant section is “Section 226 Technical Prevention Measures”.

This has part b as follows.

(b)for the avoidance of doubt, does not include a process, treatment, mechanism, device, or system to the extent that, in the normal course of operation, it only controls any access to a work for non-infringing purposes (for example, it does not include a process, treatment, mechanism, device, or system to the extent that it controls geographic market segmentation by preventing the playback in New Zealand of a non-infringing copy of a work)

This is commonly interpreted as allowing a user to break DRM so that a DVD from a different zone can be played in New Zealand (i.e. a legitimately purchased DVD from a different country, via Amazon or another vendor).

That is why I can require a home electronics vendor to “multizone” a DVD player before I leave the store.

Anonymous Coward says:

Next the booksellers will want to ban the NZ Post Office from allowing books to be imported into the country. A few years back the booksellers in Australia stopped any local competition with their parallel import laws (you must buy from the authorised importers & distributors), however they still went broke & out of business when Amazon US sent them via the post from overseas.

Sarah (user link) says:

many good services

I would usually agree with you but there are many good services out there, you just need to know which one to choose from the myriad of providers, many are bad, many keep logs of what you are doing, but there a few of them that are quite reliable. Some even offer free trials for you to test their software before purchasing anything, i would advise you to look into some lists of the <a href=”https://itday.com/vpn/best-vpn-services-of-2017/”>best vpn services in 2017</a> .

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