Netflix VPN Problem? Leave Consumers Alone, Aussie Minister Says

As Australia's site blocking Bill took a step closer to becoming law yesterday, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull made it extra clear that VPN use won't be a problem under the legislation. Ordering "the big boys" to sort out the VPN issue between themselves, Turnbull told rightsholders to leave consumers alone.

ausAfter struggling with the issue of online piracy for many years, last week the Australian parliamentary committee investigating the government’s ‘pirate’ site-blocking Bill gave the legislation the green light.

After Coalition and Labor senators endorsed the Bill with four modifications, it is now guaranteed to become law.

Last evening the Bill passed the Australian House of Representatives but while doing so provoked interesting comment from Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the issue of VPN use.

Noting that there is no “silver bullet” to deal with Internet piracy, Turnbull said that the Bill contains a number of safeguards and amendments designed to protect “public and private interests”, including the use of VPNs that are promoted or used for legitimate purposes.

“VPNs have a wide range of legitimate purposes, not least of which is the preservation of privacy — something which every citizen is entitled to secure for themselves — and [VPN providers] have no oversight, control or influence over their customers’ activities,” Turnbull said.

The Communications Minister went on to give the example of an Australian consumer using a VPN to ‘trick’ a U.S.-based site into thinking they were located inside the United States.

“This Australian could then — and this is widely done — purchase the content in the normal way with a credit card. The owner of the Australian rights to the content so acquired might well be quite unhappy about that, but they could take a remedy against the American site or the underlying owner of the rights. This bill does not apply to a site like this. It is not intended to apply to VPNs,” Turnbull confirmed.

There are key reasons why the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 does not apply to VPN use, but for clarity’s sake, Turnbull spelled them out.

“Where someone is using a VPN to access, for example, Netflix from the United States to get content in respect of which Netflix does not have an Australian licence, this bill would not deal with that, because you could not say that Netflix in the United States has as its primary purpose the infringement, or facilitation of the infringement, of copyright,” the Minister said.

Indeed, for this scenario to be covered by the legislation then Netflix and/or the VPN provider would need to show a general disregard for copyright and meet several of at least eight criteria laid out in the Bill, including demonstrating “flagrant” infringement.

Turnbull went on to make it clear that if local entertainment companies have a problem with Australians utilizing VPNs to obtain a better content offering, then they should direct their grievances overseas and leave the man in the street alone.

“If Australian rights owners have got issues about American sites selling content to Australians in respect of which they do not have Australian rights, they should take it up with them. The big boys can sort it out between themselves and leave the consumers out of it,” Turnbull said.

Finally, the timely delivery of quality content at a fair price has always been a problem in Australia and one of the key local drivers behind both piracy and the VPN ‘problem’. Thankfully the issue was underlined by the Communications Minister who noted that blocking alone would not solve the country’s problems.

“The bill is not intended to operate in a vacuum. The availability of content that is timely and affordable is a key factor in the solution to online copyright infringement,” Turnbull said.

“When infringing sources of content are disrupted, this disruption will be most effective if Australian consumers have legitimate sources to turn to that provide content at competitive prices and at the same time that it is available overseas.”

Whether that situation comes to pass is up to the entertainment industries but if grand efforts aren’t made, Aussies will use their VPNs not only to access Netflix, but also evade every site blocking measure this legislation hopes to impose.

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