Aussie price gouging plan should be adopted here

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 05:00 31/07/2013

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Measures recommended by an Australian parliamentary inquiry to bring down the price of digital goods such as software, computer games and music should also be adopted in New Zealand, the Telecommunications Users Association says.

An Australian House of Representatives committee made several recommendations on Monday most of which were aimed at making it harder for multinationals to charge different prices for digital products in different countries.

That followed a year-long inquiry during which the committee heard evidence that Australians were commonly paying more than 50 per cent more than Americans for digital goods. New Zealand consumer groups claim the country-specific mark-up in New Zealand is typically even higher.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the United States Trade Representative in Washington, which critiques other countries' intellectual property regimes in an annual report, said it had no comment on the Australian proposals.

Multinationals can vary their country-prices by detecting prospective customers' internet protocol (IP) addresses and directing them to different online store fronts, a process known as ''geo-blocking''.

However, such controls can be circumvented with the help of internet providers and other online intermediaries, by disguising people's IP addresses.

The Australian inquiry recommended amending the country's Copyright Act to make it clear measures to circumvent geo-blocking were not illegal and recommended the government educate Australians on the tools they could use.

It also went further, by recommending the government consider banning geo-blocking if those measures did not have the desired effect.

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Paul Brislen said he was supportive. ''I'd love to see something similar over here.''

Apple, one of the companies that could be affected by the proposals, said it had no comment.

Institute for Information Technology Professionals chief executive Paul Matthews said it was explicit in Australia that the circumvention of geo-blocking controls was not currently allowed, whereas that was not the case in New Zealand.

The legalities here have never been tested in New Zealand courts and have been described by some lawyers as a grey area.

''I suspect some of the more radical recommendations such as the government educating people on circumvention won't be followed through,'' Matthews said. ''I don't think it is plausible for a government to be educating people on how to circumvent geo-blocking."

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A ban on geo-blocking would be even harder, given the cross jurisdictional issues, he said. ''You have got to ask what one sovereign government can do about something that is effectively occurring in a different jurisdiction.

''New Zealand telecommunications company CallPlus introduced a ''Global Mode'' service for Slingshot broadband customers last month that lets them circumvent geo-blocking by making it appear as if they are logging on to websites from the United States or Britain. It is marketing the service as one customers could use if they are hosting overseas guests.

Chief executive Mark Callender said the Australian parliamentary inquiry ''certainly reinforces some of the points we have recently raised about New Zealanders often getting treated as second-class citizens, whether this is access to content or related services or simply the high price we are forced to pay when it comes to digital and information technology products''.

Information Technology Minister Amy Adams has said the matters considered by the Australian inquiry are of similar concern in New Zealand and she would work through its findings and recommendations ''and how they may relate to New Zealand'' over the coming weeks. 

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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