By: Courtney Fears
“The content you are trying to access is unavailable in this area.” No one likes to see this message. Ever. Especially when they pay for what is supposed to be seemingly unlimited access to any movie, television show or documentary their heart desires. Unfortunately, this is where the copyright holder’s economic interest and the Netflix addict disagree.
Geo-blocking is a practice used to prevent certain web users from accessing particular content. Website owners often use IP addresses to determine the location of a user and whether or not the user will have access to the desired content. In some instances, user access may be blocked because of geographic location or because of lack of authorization to access the desired content. While geo-blocking may be irritating to many consumers, geo-blocking serves a great economic purpose for many companies. Geo-blocking is often used as a tool to enforce preferential pricing (also known as “price discrimination”) techniques and attempts to protect the rights of copyright and license holders. Most commonly, popular content-streaming companies use geo-blocking as a way to protect the limited licenses granted to them by major movie and production studios. Additionally, governments around the globe use geo-blocking as way to filter or censor content that may challenge the government’s oppressive political practices.
For the most part, companies like Netflix and HBOGo use geo-blocking only to protect their limited licenses. Netflix and similar content-streaming sites argue that it is not that they do not want to stream to users in certain areas, they are just simply limited by the restrictions outlined in their licensing agreements. These licenses allow Netflix and other media-streaming giants to provide subscribers with access to thousands of movies and television shows for a very low price. Maintaining these licenses requires Netflix and others to abide by the restrictions outlined in the licensing agreement. This means, if the licensing agreement states particular movies shall not be streamed in certain country, Netflix must do everything in its power to prevent users in that country from accessing that. For example, if a licensing agreement prevents Netflix from streaming videos to any person outside the continental United States, any access of the restricted content by a person in Canada would be grounds for termination of the license agreement. Any violation of this agreement could result in Netflix losing their license. Copyright protection grants the copyright holder certain exclusive rights, including the right to reproduce the work, right to publicly perform the work and the right to distribute the work. As the copyright holder, the major movie and production studios negotiate the license given to Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu as a way to protect the exclusive rights granted to them by the copyright statute. These licensing agreements are the foundation on which the content-streaming companies have built their empires. Meaning, these companies will do whatever it takes to ensure their limited licenses are never in jeopardy.
However, globalization is making the world an increasingly small place and easy access to entertainment is in high demand. In order to maintain a competitive advantage, Netflix and its counterparts should work with copyright holders to allow access to content for consumers no matter their location.
Blogger Bio: Courtney is a staff member of the Journal of High Technology Law. She is currently a 3L student at Suffolk Law with a concentration in Intellectual Property. She holds a B. A. in Political Science from Louisiana State University. Courtney is a native of Dallas, Texas and enjoys warm weather and college football.