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NZ ISP folds on rights holder threats over global mode

A small New Zealand ISP has stopped offering 'global mode' access to geoblocked services, despite believing the practice to be within NZ law due to legal threats from content owners.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

New Zealand internet service provider (ISP) Lightwire has said it will stop offering "global mode" VPN access to international geoblocked websites, including BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and Netflix US, after receiving legal threats from content owners in the country.

Earlier this month, Lightwire, Slingshot, Orcon, Bypass, and other ISPs were targeted by media companies Lightbox, MediaWorks, SKY, and TVNZ for alleged breach of copyright.

The companies have sent letters to the ISPs, requesting them to cease offering global mode and similar services in New Zealand due to the alleged breach of copyright.

"We pay considerable amounts of money for content rights, particularly exclusive content rights. These rights are being knowingly and illegally impinged, which is a significant issue that may ultimately need to be resolved in court in order to provide future clarity for all parties involved," the companies said in a statement.

"This is not about taking action against consumers; this is a business-to-business issue, and is about creating a fair playing field."

In a blog post on Wednesday, Lightwire said it believes the global mode feature to be completely above board.

"We thoroughly disagree with the claims that the letter makes. We believe that the global mode service reduces the temptation to illegally download content by offering consumers in New Zealand more choice in terms of accessing content from legitimate sources and on their own terms," the company said.

Lightwire accused "old media companies" of using their clout to enforce "an increasingly irrelevant business model" where regional content restrictions feel outdated. But due to the size of Lightwire against the rights holders, the company said it would cease operating the global mode product.

"Unfortunately, we simply do not have the resources to challenge the claims in a legal setting, and so barring any further action by other ISPs -- or by the Commerce Commission -- we will have to disable the global mode service entirely by the 15th of April 2015," the company said.

The parent company of Slingshot, Orcon, and Flip -- CallPlus -- appears to be resisting the threats from the rights holders, stating that the company strongly believes global mode to be "completely legal".

"The threat of legal action by TVNZ, Mediaworks, SKY, and Spark is merely an attempt to restrict consumer choice in favour of their profits. These companies want to control the internet. They want to restrict what Kiwis can do online," the company said.

It comes as a very different copyright debate rages on in Australia over Voltage Pictures being granted access to the names and postal addresses of 4,726 Australians alleged to have illicitly downloaded Dallas Buyers Club between April and May last year.

Speaking on Radio 2UE on Thursday, Voltage Pictures' vice president of royalties Michael Wickstrom confirmed that he had received two death threats from Australia because the company was vowing to send out letters to customers with potential financial claims for the alleged infringement.

"There's some angry folks in Australia," he said.

While Voltage -- which made a reported $55 million on Dallas Buyers Club with a budget of $5 million -- would be seeking some financial compensation from infringers, Wickstrom said there could be non-financial settlements, including requiring schools where students downloaded the film to display signs warning against online copyright infringement.

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