Sony, TV producers force Netflix to fight technology that jumps geofences
Documents revealed by WikiLeaks show terms Sony imposed on Netflix to protect rights
Do you use technical tricks to watch U.S. Netflix in Canada?
Movie and TV producers are being forced to use different ways to fight services that let Netflix users access the company's services in countries other than their own, where more or different programs are available.
A newly leaked contract between Netflix and Sony flagged by University of Ottawa researcher and blogger Michael Geist reveals the kinds of terms that Netflix has to agree to in making some movies and TV shows available in certain countries and not others — a practice known as geofencing or geoblocking.
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In New Zealand and Australia, meanwhile, threats of lawsuits and new copyright legislation may start to make it harder for Netflix users to get proxy and virtual private network (VPN) technologies to help them get around geofences.
In Canada, a 2014 poll found that a third of anglophone Netflix subscribers across the country accessed U.S. Netflix, which has roughly twice as much TV and movie content available as the Canadian version.
The TV and movie content available in certain countries varies, because companies like Sony often sell distribution rights to different companies in different countries.
The Sony-Netflix contract, effective May 14, 2014 in Canada, the U.S, Latin America, the U.K., Nordic countries and the Netherlands, was among Sony documents posted in a searchable online archive by the website WikiLeaks this week.
It shows that Sony requires Netflix to geofence its services — and constantly update technology to detect any forbidden fence-hopping.
Geist noted that the contract targets VPNs or web proxies specifically created to bypass geofencing.
"That may explain why Netflix would focus on VPN services that market themselves as primarily allowing for access to U.S. Netflix, while not stopping general VPN services that are used for a wide range of purposes, including protecting personal privacy," Geist wrote.
Netflix acknowledged last year that it had itself "done nothing new recently" to block VPNs, and likened detecting them to "playing a game of whack-a-mole."
The leaked contract acknowledges that geolocation technologies "may in some cases be circumvented by highly proficient and determined individuals or organizations."
Geist said that "may create sufficient flexibility to allow Netflix to argue that it meets Sony's contractual requirements on geo-filtering."
TV producers in New Zealand, however, aren't counting on Netflix to crack down on geofence skirters. Some have threatened internet providers with legal action if they keep providing VPN services to their customers, reports TorrentFreak, a website dedicated to news about copyright, privacy and file-sharing.
In Australia, consumer advocate group called Choice is lobbying against new copyright legislation that could restrict customers' access to VPN services, reports the Guardian, a media organization based in the U.K.
The proposed legislation would allow TV studios to obtain court orders requiring internet service providers to block sites that facilitate the infringement of copyright.