Why Netflix VPN ‘Pirates’ (Shouldn’t) Terrify Hollywood

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This week Netflix announced that it would ramp up its crackdown on VPN and proxy pirates. The decision is a response to increased demands from major Hollywood players, but is this fear of VPN pirates justified?

netflix-logoWith the launch of legal streaming services such as Netflix, movie and TV fans have less reason to turn to pirate sites. At the same time, however, these legal options present new copyright-related problems and threats.

Traditionally the movie industry has relied on geographical licensing deals through which movie and TV-show rights are sold to separate parties in various countries.

Ten years ago this model wasn’t causing any issues. But now that the Internet has made entertainment more instant and global, the public is beginning to complain.

Why do Netflix users in Andorra, Bolivia and the Cook Islands have access to Better Call Saul, while Americans don’t? Similarly, why can Danish people watch American Sniper while it’s pretty much unavailable in the rest of the world?

Most Netflix users don’t understand.

This frustration is driving people to circumvent geographical restrictions by using VPNs and proxy services. With help from handy tools such as the “unofficial Netflix online Global Search” every Netflix subscriber can easily access these hidden treasures.

There are even specialized applications that do the same, giving people a browsable library of all Netflix titles with built-in proxies.

unofficial Netflix online Global Search

Netflix’s announcement to ramp up its crackdown on VPN and proxy pirates comes a week after Netflix expanded its reach by more than 130 countries. This obviously isn’t a coincidence, as the two are directly linked.

While Netflix has always been contractually obliged to take measures against unblocking efforts, its near worldwide expansion makes it a higher priority.

Targeting VPN and proxy “pirates” has been high on the Hollywood agenda for several years already. For example, in 2014 Sony Pictures conducted research to identify the IP-ranges of various VPNs and proxies.

It turned out that most were not, and these results were shared with Netflix and other streaming services so they could take action and expand their blocklists where needed.

The question is, however, whether this repressive approach will be effective.

In fact, the announced measures may cause some people to give up their subscriptions and return to their old piracy habits, which should worry both Netflix and the movie studios. The true solution lies somewhere else.

While it’s easier said than done the film industry should move away from its complicated licensing schemes and windowed releases, much like the music industry has. This is a change Netflix backs according to recent statements.

According to Netflix the ‘VPN pirates’ are willing to pay, they just can’t get what they want through their local Netflix.

Speaking out on the controversial VPN use, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said that the problem can be fixed if the industry starts to offer the same content globally, without artificial barriers.

“The basic solution is for Netflix to get global and have its content be the same all around the world so there’s no incentive to [use a VPN]. Then we can work on the more important part which is piracy,” Hastings said.

For now Netflix can do little else than comply with the pressure from Hollywood, but as soon as they roll out broad VPN blockades it’s going to cause problems.

Many people use VPN services to protect their privacy, not to fool Netflix, and when they are locked out of their accounts there’s bound to be some uproar. At the same time it will trigger a new cat-and-mouse game where “unblocking” services will try to bypass Netflix’s blocks against them, and so on.

It’s hard to see any winners in this game, except perhaps from the Hollywood insiders who lack a long-term vision.


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