Time to get rid of geo-blocking

Allowing artificial restrictions to be placed on content availability is infuriating.

Allowing artificial restrictions to be placed on content availability is infuriating.

OPINION: I wanted to watch Withnail and I. It is a film of which I am particularly fond. This year is the 30th anniversary of its release and I had some friends who had never seen it.

My aging and worn DVD copy had been slowly reduced to its component molecules over the past decade or two, and the last thing I need is more physical possessions so I thought I would investigate the online digital offerings.

My first stop was iTunes. Call me dull but there it is. A search gave me the link and I clicked to launch the app … which told me that I was attempting to connect to the wrong store and that the Australian outlet did not offer the film.

So much for buying it outright. I thought, let's check the streaming offerings. Surely Netflix would have it. And it does, if you are in America. Amazon Prime, then. No problem, if you're in the UK.

READ MORE: Why Netflix is winning the online piracy wars

Some cursory searching later, I found a subscription service called FilmStruck which offers "instant streaming access to critically acclaimed classic movies, hard to find gems and cult favourites". Sounds good. Further searches indicated they can carry the requisite "hard to find gem" and so I signed up for a trial of the service. At least, I tried to. It is only available in the US.

It may have been around at this time that I began to contemplate procuring what might best be termed a "long-term evaluation copy".

Now, I am aware of the VPN options that are available to address (even if only temporarily) the restriction of geo-blocking, but the point is that I was trying to pay for something and that for whatever reasons — control, media-bundling, trade agreements, lawyers-justifying-their-existence and outright stupidity — I was prevented from doing so.

I didn't complete (or even start) my course at the Harvard Business School, but taking people's money when they are trying to give it to you seems germane to the process.

There is a word for business leaders and governments spruiking the benefits of operating in a globalised economy yet happily allowing artificial restrictions to be placed on content availability. Actually, there are several.

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I wouldn't mind so much but Game of Thrones was on recently which means it's the season for media outlets to start parroting reports about piracy.

There is usually some massive figure that piracy is said to be costing the "industry" or the world – think of the jobs and the children – along with almost no information about the metrics used to calculate those figures.

There is a good reason for this. The cost of each digital item is usually massively over-inflated and it's tricky trying to quantify sales you don't make. They tend to assume that every digital item is a lost sale.

Interestingly, for all the carnage that piracy is supposed to have wrought on the box office, those takings seem remarkably resilient, except when the release in one territory lags significantly behind another. So that form of geo-blocking doesn't work for consumers, either.

It's not like the music industry didn't trailblaze pretty much every failed copy protection approach for everyone to see.

When you need a non-binding postal plebiscite to guide those who claim a mandate to govern, it's probably too much to expect government to learn from failed approaches.

You would hope, however, that businessfolk might at least try to get their heads around the idea of giving people the thing they are happy to pay for.

 - Sydney Morning Herald


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