Aussie price gouging plan could be adopted here

00:41, Jul 30 2013

The Government says it will consider following Australia in taking steps to cut the cost of digital goods such as software, downloadable music and computer games.

An Australian parliamentary inquiry yesterday [Monday] released a report that recommended giving consumers the right to trick multinationals into selling them digital products at overseas prices, after finding evidence Australians were commonly paying 50 per cent more than Americans for many items.

Consumer groups claim mark-ups in New Zealand by multinational technology companies can be even higher.

Information Technology Minister Amy Adams said the matters considered by the Australian House of Representatives inquiry were of similar concern in New Zealand "and I have previously approached my Australian counterpart expressing an interest in working together in this regard".

"With [its] report now released, it is my intention to work through their findings and recommendations, and how they may relate to New Zealand, over the coming weeks," she said.

The changes recommended by the Australian inquiry would be designed to let Australians fool multinationals such as Microsoft and Apple into selling them software and music from their US online storefronts, rather than have them forced to buy digital products from their higher-priced Australian equivalents.

The House of Representatives standing committee on communications and infrastructure spent more than a year conducting the inquiry, which has been popularly referred to in Australia as the "IT price-gouging inquiry".

As well as amending the country's Copyright Act to let consumers circumvent "geo-blocking" controls, it also said the Australian government should educate consumers on the "tools and techniques" they could use to do so. Contracts and terms and conditions that sought to enforce geo-blocking would be "void" under its proposed law changes.

As a "last resort" if those measures failed to bring down prices, the Australian government should consider "enacting a ban" on geo-blocking, the standing committee said. The legal status of tools used to circumvent geo-blocking has not yet been tested by any courts in New Zealand.

The Australian inquiry said it was difficult to say how much extra Australians might be paying for digital and information technology products because the market was "fluid". It recommended the Australian Bureau of Statistics develop a "comprehensive monitoring programme".

But it said submissions indicated Australians were paying 50 per cent more than they should for professional software products from the likes of Microsoft, Adobe and Autodesk, 67 per cent more for downloadable music, 61 per cent extra for games, a 16 per cent country mark-up on e-books and 46 per cent more than Americans for 50 different computer hardware products.