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ACCC warns site-blocking Bill may be used to 'intimidate' VPN users

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims has warned against rights holders 'inappropriately' threatening to block services that grant Australians access to geoblocked services like Hulu and HBO Now.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor on

Film studios and TV companies should not use legislation that allows them to get piracy sites blocked in Australia to "inappropriately threaten" to block access to geoblocked services, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims has said.

The Australian government last month introduced legislation that would allow rights holders to get an injunction placed on internet service providers (ISPs) to force telcos to block specific overseas piracy websites from access by Australian users.

The rights holders would need to demonstrate that the primary purpose of a website is for the infringement of copyright before the Federal Court will order ISPs to block it.

The ACCC joined a chorus of concern from organisations including Google and Choice that -- despite the fact that Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said use of virtual private network (VPN) services to access geoblocked content is legal -- VPNs and other means of bypassing regional restrictions may be under threat by the legislation.

Sims has expressed concern that rights holders may use this power to "intimidate consumers", similar to how some rights holders have used the threat of court action to prevent the legitimate sale of parallel imported goods.

"The ACCC would be concerned if copyright owners were able to inappropriately threaten use of the powers set out in this Bill to intimidate consumers and businesses to prevent them from accessing legitimate goods from other jurisdictions," Sims said in the ACCC's submission to the parliamentary committee investigating the legislation.

"One way to address this is to ensure that a definition of infringing content does not apply to content authorised by owners in other jurisdictions."

Bypassing geoblocks is generally a breach of the terms of service for many companies, including HBO and Netflix. HBO has recently sent out letters to some customers, warning that their HBO Now service will be deactivated unless they can prove they reside within the United States.

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