Netflix has reiterated that users should not try to access content licensed for streaming in other countries.

It issued a statement upholding its long-standing policy in response to a media report that it had begun cracking down on services that help users alter their locations.

Canadian Netflix users can access TV shows and movies licensed for the American market by using a free or subscription-based online service to make it look as if they have a U.S. IP address.

There are various ways to change your IP address to make it seem as if you are in another country, including through virtual private network (VPN) software and web-based proxy sites or domain name hosting services (DNS). These geoblocking circumvention tools trick the Netflix system into allowing you to stream another country’s content. 

The Netflix statement issued Monday says that practice is and has always been against its policy. It did not confirm or deny it has begun a crackdown, but said there has been "no change" in the way it handles VPNs.

"Virtually crossing borders to use Netflix is a violation of our terms of use because of content licensing restriction," the statement says. "We employ industry standard measures to prevent this kind of use. There hasn't been any recent changes to the Netflix VPN policy or terms of use."

TorrentFreak.com reported this weekend that the video streaming service had recently taken steps against geoblocking circumvention tools, which help users appear to have a U.S. internet address.

It quoted TorGuard’s Ben Van der Pelt as saying that Netflix had shut down some geoblocking circumvention tools, though only for a short period, possibly as a prelude to a wider crackdown.

A Reddit user reported difficulty getting around Netflix geoblocking on an Android app. There also were reports of DNS services being blocked in Australia and South Korea before Christmas.

Movie studios complain

The streaming service is available in 50 countries, but has different content in each country, depending on its licences with content providers.

Some movie studios have complained to Netflix that customers are using VPNs and other tools to get around content restrictions.

It appears the practice may be widespread in Canada.

A telephone poll with 2,002 anglophone Canadians commissioned last spring by the Media Technology Monitor found about 32 per cent of the respondents were Netflix subscribers.

About one in three of the Netflix users had figured out how to access content meant for U.S. subscribers.

The Media Technology Monitor poll was conducted by Forum Research between March 18 and April 19, 2014. The results are considered accurate within 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Golden Frog, a global company which owns the VyprVPN service, which can be used to set up an IP address in the U.S., Europe or Asia, says it has not yet encountered issues accessing Netflix among its customers.

If Netflix does block VPNs, Netflix users are the ones that lose out as ISPs in every country are throttling streaming services, company president  Sunday Yokubaitis said in an email. He said Golden Frog is “network neutral” and customers report better streaming speeds than they get on ISPs.

“It’s important to note that VyprVPN is first and foremost a privacy and security tool.  A vast majority of our customers use VyprVPN to better protect their privacy and secure their personal data when they go online. Our concern is that any company that attempts to block VPNs is assaulting their own customers’ online privacy and security,” he said. 

With files from The Canadian Press