Criminals When You Pirate, Criminals When You Pay

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Online content pirates are regularly labeled 'thieves' by entertainment industry companies. However, we're now seeing genuine customers being branded as "criminals", simply because they access Netflix from another country using a VPN. Talking to customers like this is not only offensive, but arrogant in the extreme.

facepalm-featuredFor many in the Internet community the occasional download is not only a petty matter, but in some cases entirely justifiable.

File-sharers are often people who turned to unofficial sources thanks to a content vacuum created by Big Media and following abusive pricing practices that took advantage of the supply monopoly. While not excusable, their actions should hardly come as a surprise.

But despite the fact that most downloading is a civil issue that the majority of courts have little to no time for, efforts to characterize the act as ‘criminal’ and to label participants as ‘thieves’ persist. However, since Joe Public accepts that file-sharing of copyright content must be “wrong” on some level, he understands why people might be upset and grudgingly accepts the label.

Recently, however, (and perhaps in response to piracy) prices have been falling. Content is more readily available online too, brilliantly so in the case of music, less so in the case of movies. But things are getting there, there’s little doubt about that. The reasons to become a “criminal” are happily becoming fewer.

Of course, people still pirate. Some exclusively so, others to augment their legitimate supply of Spotify music and Netflix video. The first group might never pay, but the latter is getting the idea. They’re enjoying having access to tens of millions of streaming tracks and the ability to conveniently binge-watch TV. They’re signed up paying customers, a fitting “Hollywood-ending” to a pirate career.

And then they get shit on again.

Users of Netflix outside the U.S. are beginning to realize (if they haven’t known forever) that by using a VPN they can get access to more content than they can normally. They’re paying for the service, what’s wrong with that? Well, apparently something called ‘licensing’ forbids them from doing so – as if any Netflix customer anywhere gives a damn about that?

In most other environments, when one legitimately buys something from overseas – Internet services in particular – there are no issues. You pay hard cash, the supplier gets paid and everyone is happy. But with Netflix (through no fault of theirs) the proverbial hits the fan.

Paying customers who use a VPN to access the service are now regularly accused of a myriad of offenses, from breaching Netflix’s license to being morally corrupt. Worst still, and like their Pirate Bay-using counterparts, they too are being labeled as criminals by elements of the entertainment industry.

Just this week Bell Media chief Mary Ann Turcke described her own 15-year-old daughter as a “thief” after learning she’d accessed U.S. Netflix from Canada.

Her own daughter. A thief. A criminal. A menace to society. No better than someone who downloads movies for free and doesn’t pay the industry even a single dime. Come on! Is this really the route we want to go down?

What can possibly be achieved by using the same aggressive terms to describe a shoplifter, a Pirate Bay user and someone who actually pays to use a legitimate service?

Earlier this week, Andy Archibald, deputy director of the UK’s National Crime Agency’s Cyber Crime Unit, described the downloading of films, music and games as a gateway to more serious crime.

“That’s criminality. It’s almost become acceptable,” Archibald told the Infosecurity Europe conference in London.

“That’s the first stages, I believe, of a gateway into the dark side.”

Ok, stop right there. If file-sharers are thieves on their way to the dark side, then are Netflix VPN “thieves” on their way to the dark side too?

Of course not, they’re paying customers who, if people like Mary Ann Turcke is lucky, will turn a blind eye to being insulted by the very people whose pockets they are lining with money.

It has to stop now. Shoplifting = theft. Piracy = copyright infringement.

Netflix+VPN = cross-border shopping in a free market – get used to it or adapt.

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