Thursday, January 19, 2012

Regional restrictions on media license are fundamentally unfair and hence doomed to become obselete

The recent launch of the netflix service in the UK and Ireland was initially greeted with great enthusiasm, but this enthusiasm quickly turned to disappointment when people realized that the aomount of movies and TV shows available on this service was going to be much reduced compared to what was on offer in the USA (for essentially the same monthly price). This brings into focus the fundamental unfairness of regional restrictions on media rights.
In the pre-digital world, the owners of the copyright on work with a global appeal were forced to work with local partners in each grography to help get their content distributed. Typically they negotiated different licnese terms for each region based upon the market reality. This tradition has become entrenched in the media indistry and some players are trying to implement a similar scheme on the internet, but it is doomed to failure for three reasons:
  1. It is technically hard to enforce regional restrictions on the internet, because the architecture of the internet was designed to make the user's geographic location invisible. Most sites that implement geographic restrictions do so by accessing databases that map IP addresses to geographic locations, but these are not notoriously inaccurate. For example, when I access the internet from work, most sites seem to think that I am in the UK since we get internet connectivity from a UK based ISP. This means that sites like RTÉ Player provide only a restricted service since they claim I am not in Ireland.
  2. In the pre-digital era, movies were promoted on TV stations and in newspapers and other outlets that only had a regional reach. Therefore they would not tend to be very aware of what entertainment offerings were available in other countries. However, now people typically learn about new media offerings on the internet which has a global reach and when they read about wonderful new services they tend to get frustrated when they can't access them.
  3. The majority of people see regional restrictions on media usage as fundamentally unfair. While their conscience might trouble them if they were sharing pirated track via BitTorrent,so they have no moral objection to using any of the freely available tools that make them appear to be located in a different country than they are.
The first generation of  digital distribution for movies was on DVDs. The movie industry tried to continue implementing a different distribution model for different regions by implementing a system of DVD region locking this system was widely circumvented because people believed that it was morally unfair that someone should try to stop them playing DVD movies at home that they had legitimately bought while on holiday in another country. This system gradually lost it effectiveness because consumers rebelled against it and began to buy region-free DVD players, I think the same thing will happen to the regional restrictions on streaming media services and the sooner the industry wakes up to this fact the better.

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