Netflix is reportedly aiming to tackle users who have been using VPNs (virtual private networks) to watch TV shows which are not licensed for their country. Users of the service have long been able to stream content – often American television shows – which is restricted due to licensing agreements from film and TV studios.
The US version of Netflix has a larger library of content than the UK and European versions of the service, including popular series like American Dad, Twin Peaks, Friends and Walking Dead. To access this content a number of users have, for many years, set up a VPN to route data through a different IP, which makes it appear the user is located in a different territory. This is not illegal, though it does go against the terms and conditions outlined by Netflix. These are stated on its website and include:
‘You may view a movie or TV show through the Netflix service primarily within the country in which you have established your account and only in geographic locations where we offer our service and have licensed such movie or TV show. The content that may be available to watch will vary by geographic location.’
Users have recently reported blocking by Netflix of their VPN connections, which the company has denied. Netflix has also made changes to its Android app, which now comes with Google DNS hardcoded, designed to make it more difficult for users to overcome geographic restrictions and access the streaming service outside of their home countries. KnowYourMobile.com even outlines ways in which to access US Netflix when in the UK: using browser plugin Hola if on Mac, PC or Android; or using subscription service UnoTelly if using a games console. It is likely that despite Netflix’ app alteration, similar ways to fool the service will arise for mobile users.
Reaction on social media to Netflix’ move has been far from positive, and with the service planning to expand into more countries this year – including Australia – the last thing the company wants is disgruntled users. Netflix may be under pressure from TV and film studios, with only certain content being licensed in certain countries: it is unable, for example, to offer its series House of Cards in France and Germany, where CanalPlus and Sky Deutschland, respectively, have exclusive local broadcast rights. But the alternative for many potential users would surely be to bypass the service altogether and pirate content illegally? The Netflix move seems to be part of a wider crackdown in the media industry to make piracy more difficult, and follows December’s shutdown of the Pirate Bay site.