The geo-blocking lawsuit may be a good thing?

The Herald reports:

For two years, before Netflix’s New Zealand launch and Sky’s Neon streaming offering, a clutch of internet service providers, including Slingshot and Orcon, have provided Global Mode – technology allowing customers to watch programmes on overseas video streaming sites, sometimes months before they are shown by New Zealand broadcasters.

In contrast to tech-savvy youngsters’ use of torrenting sites and other shady methods to “unblock” trending programmes in the United States or Britain, Global Mode came with at least a veneer of legitimacy. While the tool is offered free, viewers still must subscribe to the overseas screening site – such as US Netflix or BBC iPlayer – satisfying customers with scruples that the content creator isn’t losing out. Nor does it require technical smarts: there’s no software to download or configurations to change.

I don’t use Global Mode, but I do use Hola to allow me to subscribe to Netflix in the US, so that I am paying someone for the content I am watching.

Now, broadcasting behemoths TVNZ, MediaWorks and Sky have joined forces with Spark (which both supplies broadband and on-demand product Lightbox) in a bid to squash the upstart. On April 2, they sent “cease and desist” legal letters to BNS and its customers giving them until Wednesday to close the service down. Some smaller internet providers folded; BNS and Call Plus (owner of Slingshot and Orcon) stared them down. Court papers are due to be served and, to no one’s surprise, Hollywood studios are joining the action.

I an understand that the broadcasters are not happy that they pay global content providers for an exclusive licence for NZ, and they find out it isn’t that exclusive.

Big Media say the technology breaches exclusive rights licensing agreements between overseas content-holders and local broadcasters. They claim this breaches law; that the streaming rights of offshore providers such as Netflix US, Hulu, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer do not extend to New Zealand.

It is far from clear it does break copyright law. The argument is that people who use global mode are just doing the equivalent of parallel importing – something the NZ Parliament has specifically legislated to be legal.

Slingshot chief executive Taryn Hamilton says internet viewing options make the broadcasting rights model of selling the same product multiple times in different territories “completely out-of-date. The music industry were kicking and screaming about this a decade ago; they wised-up and changed their business model and now there’s a thriving economy for music.

“The broadcasters need to go back to the rights-holders and say exclusive geographic content is a failed model.”

I agree.

And this is where the lawsuit may be useful. If the broadcasters lose the lawsuit, then it will have global reverberations. It will be a clear court ruling that someone with rights to one country can’t stop people dealing with people with right’s in another country. Just like Whitcoulls can’t stop you buying off Amazon.

If the broadcasters lose, then they can go back to the rights-holders and say our rights are no longer exclusive. You have no legal capacity to make them exclusive, so all we’re going to do is pay you for non-exclusive rights. And this could set off a global change in breaking down the idea of being able to make rights exclusive by country in an Internet connected world.

So the broadcasters may win, even if they lose.

What if the broadcasters win?

Probably not much. The ISPs who use global mode will stop offering it, but most of their customers will then either use individual services such as Hola, or VPNs, or just simply go from paying for content to torrenting it. The one thing they won’t do is say “Oh I’m going to wait four months to see my favourite TV show, once an exclusive holder in NZ decides I can see it”.

So I think a loss for the broadcasters will be even better for them than a win.

A win for the broadcasters will be bad for the ISPs, but not affect end users much.

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