Internet provider Slingshot has thrown another stone into the troubled waters of online television.
Slingshot today invited its customers to use a free feature it introduced last year that lets them access online services that are blocked in New Zealand, such as online television services Netflix and Hulu.
Sky Television spokeswoman Kirsty Way would not comment on whether it might take any action in relation to Slingshot's invitation, which comes as the broadcaster and Telecom prepare to launch their own stand-alone online television services.
Slingshot introduced the "Global Mode" feature" a year ago, but promoted it then as a service customers should only use if they were hosting overseas visitors who wanted to access services they had legitimately subscribed to in their home country.
Even then, Slingshot made it clear that it would turn a blind eye to Kiwi subscribers using Global Mode by saying it couldn't police its use for "privacy reasons".
What changed today is that Slingshot is now openly inviting all its customers to use the service. Slingshot said in a statement that they would now all be able to sign up to services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer.
"There is no valid argument as to why New Zealanders are paying much more for the same content as others in the world," general manager Taryn Hamilton said.
"We shouldn't tolerate it."
Lawyer Kevin Glover, an expert in intellectual property law, said this morning that the legal status of anti-geoblocking services such as Global Mode had never been tested in New Zealand.
Consumers who had fibbed about their country of residence when subscribing to a service such as Netflix could be guilty of infringing copyright when they watched the service online, Glover said.
But Slingshot would not be guilty of a copyright offence, even if it were deemed to have encouraged it, because unlike in the United States, encouraging copyright infringement was not illegal in New Zealand, he said.
Glover said an issue could arise if Slingshot was considered to have actively encouraged customers to breach the terms and conditions of other companies' contracts.
He could not see obvious grounds for a legal claim, but if someone was "angry enough" they might to try to test that in court. A more likely scenario was that overseas online services such as Netflix might come under pressure to shore up their geoblocking measures.
Slingshot is the largest sub-brand of telecommunications company CallPlus, which also owns the Orcon and Flip brands. Together they hold about 15 per cent of the internet access market.
Hamilton said Orcon and Flip were not offering Global Mode "for now" but said there was no reason why they might not in future.
Netflix is not legally able to offer its US$8.99 (NZ$10.27) a month online television service in New Zealand because it does not own the local rights to its programming and it is a breach of its terms and conditions for New Zealanders to sign up.
However, about 30,000 New Zealanders are believed to have subscribed to Netflix using services such as Slingshot's Global Mode and paid "anti-geoblocking" services offered by overseas intermediaries such as Canada's UnoTelly. These typically cost US$5 to $10 a month.
Sky TV said last year that it was "talking to legal copyright experts" about Global Mode.
- The Dominion Post