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New Zealand ISP Introduces Global Mode to Give Users Access to Geoblocked Content

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New Zealand-based internet service provider Slingshot announced on Tuesday that its new Global Mode will provide users access to more geoblocked content, including Netflix and Hulu. The service is free for its New Zealand broadband customers.

Slingshot began offering the service 12 months ago to allow international visitors to New Zealand access to blocked content. As of today, streaming sites such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Hulu, are among the dozen unblocked services that will be accessible to all of Slingshot’s New Zealand customers.

“No beating around the bush. This is to watch Netflix, this is to watch BBC iPlayer, this is to watch Hulu, this is to watch Amazon Prime,” Slingshot general manager Taryn Hamilton told the Herald.

Global Mode works by masking the true origin of the request for service, instead appearing to the site that the request originated in the US or the UK.

“Under Australian law, although the streaming of the content would not be in violation of copyright law, breaching the terms of use to access a streaming site could be considered a crime,” Matt Phillipps, IT lawyer for IDEALAW told ZDNet last year.

“Many streaming or IPTV sites ban you from using a VPN in their terms of use, which is the contract you enter when you sign up to that streaming site,” he said. “Breaching those terms of use can be enough to get your account blocked, often without a refund. The site owner may also sue you.”

Distribution rights exist to prevent providers from releasing television and movies outside of the country in which they operate. However, users find ways to circumvent geoblocking as evidenced by the site NetflixAustraliaNow which gives users steps to access Netflix via Unblock-US.

Australia and New Zealand have similarly restricted content and limited choices for streaming services which has led users to break terms of service. According to the Financial Review, market sources estimate that up to 200,000 Australians are already using Netflix and Stuff.com.nz reports that about 30,000 New Zealanders subscribe to the media streaming service.

Last year The Australian reported that Netflix would launch in Australia in 2014 since so many users were already accessing the service via VPN. However, Netflix said in June that plans for Australian expansion are on hold until 2015 while it launches in Europe.

Other streaming services have begun to enter the Australia and New Zealand markets. Telcom announced last week that they would launch a streaming service soon. At $15 per month it is unclear if “legal” access to content is enough to entice customers to switch to its service when they can get Netflix, Hulu, and more for under $10 per month.

Intellectual property law lawyer Kevin Glover told stuff.co.nz that the legal issues around anti-geoblocking services had never been tested in New Zealand. Similar issues around copyrighted content have already been addressed in the United States. This year, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Aereo streaming service that rebroadcasted television shows to users is illegal because it performs copyrighted works without paying rights holders. The Copyright Alert system has been attempting to educate ISPs on legal issues to reduce copyright infringement.

“According to consumers who had fibbed about their country of residence when subscribing to a service such as Netflix could be guilty of infringing copyright when they watched the service online,” Glover said. “But Slingshot would not be guilty of a copyright offence, even if it were deemed to have encouraged it, because unlike in the United States, encouraging copyright infringement was not illegal in New Zealand.”

Glover said an issue could arise if Slingshot was considered to have actively encouraged customers to breach the terms and conditions of other companies’ contracts.

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