If VPN Sites Are Blocked In Australia, You Can Always Build Your Own

The battle of largely US-based media companies against Australian consumers has turned temporarily from concern about illegal downloads, to Australians circumventing geographic streaming restrictions. Leaked documents from Sony Pictures, recently posted on Wikileaks, reveal that Sony demanded that Netflix do more to stop VPN users from countries like Australia accessing their services.

Builder picture from Shutterstock

Prior to their official launch in Australia this year, Netflix was estimated to have had around 200,000 Australian subscribers, all using VPNs.

Netflix has so far successfully resisted pressure to implement so-called geo-blocks that would prevent Australians (and others) from accessing US content. They have argued that it would inconvenience their "legitimate" customers and also will be unnecessary once they have completed their global roll-out of their service. Once they have finished the roll-out, Netflix would be increasingly seeking global licences for their content to avoid any geographic differences in their service.

Will companies tackle VPN through copyright law?

The lobbying of the media companies like Sony has not stopped there however. Pressure has been exerted on governments in a number of countries to tighten copyright legislation. Recent articles in the Australian press have suggested that legislation to amend the Copyright Act in Australian will leave the door open for media companies to seek the blocking of VPN services.

The problem with the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, is that it uses ambiguous language that is open to interpretation. In particular, it states that injunctions may be sought against online locations where "the primary purpose of the online location is to infringe, or to facilitate the infringement of, copyright".

Organisations such as the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, have interpreted this as potentially meaning that ISPs could be forced to block sites that provide VPN access to consumers. Unfortunately, the media has taken this one step further by suggesting that VPN technology itself could somehow be banned.

Are VPNs legal?

Confusing the technology of VPNs with sites that provide access to VPN servers has only fuelled speculation and concern about what media companies will or won't be able to do.

The Australian Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, has stated that the use of VPN technology by Australians to circumvent geo-blocking in the US, is not illegal under the Copyright Act. This is somewhat at odds however with the view of the Australian Copyright Council who state that they believe it is "likely" to be illegal. The reason for the ACC's view is that they see geo-blocking as a form of copyright technological protection mechanism. If that was the case, then circumventing them with a VPN could be considered illegal under the terms of the Copyright Act.

The concern for many is that if the Australian Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 is passed as is, the courts will be left to determine whether VPN services indeed "facilitate the infringement of copyright".

As other commentators have pointed out however, in practice, chasing down VPN service providers will be like a game of Whac-A-Mole. Blocking access to websites will do nothing to stop people who have already got access to VPNs through that service. Also, attempts to block access can easily be circumvented using proxy services and other work-arounds.

Build your own personal cloud VPN

Possibly posing even more of a challenge to media companies wishing to shut down VPN use to circumvent geo-blocking is the ability of consumers to build their own personal cloud VPN service. This has become a real possibility thanks to cloud services from companies like Amazon, and open source software such as SoftEther VPN from the University of Tsukuba, Japan.

The first step involves creating a server on Amazon's cloud service AWS. This can be done for free for a year although data costs will kick in past the first 15 GB. The server can be run in a number of different locations but for the purposes of accessing US services, one of three US locations can be chosen. Installing the SoftEther VPN software requires following relatively simple instructions but getting a neighbourhood techie to do it for you would be better. Once done, connecting to the VPN from a laptop is as easy as putting in the address of the server and entering the username and password created during the installation of the VPN software.

The whole process of setting up a personal VPN takes about 30 minutes (the time it took the author researching this article). This would be slightly longer if setting up accounts on Amazon for the first time. Setting up a VPN this way has the added advantage that it is very unlikely to be blocked by services like Hulu, for example, because they are only looking for known VPN service provider Internet addresses.

Hopefully one day, taking such steps will be unnecessary and media companies will move to operating on an equal global basis. Until that time however, there are means of levelling the playing field.The Conversation

David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Comments

    I'll be interested to see how this one plays out. Repeatedly we've seen the push to remove geo-blocking or allow us to circumvent simply to increase competition - thanks to the Australia tax. With streaming the availability now becomes important as well.

    On top of this any sane business uses VPNs for it's staff when working off-site.

    But who is going to fight it when companies like DBC LLC decide to start suing? You know they'll target something soft to try and get the legal precedent.

    Still don't understand why they want to block paying customers?

      In the case of got, foxtel pays them more money than geo hoppers. And it's probably pressure from the local rights holders who see it as lost income.

    They've honestly got completely the wrong mindset. I believe most people want to do the right thing (if it's made easy enough). If you make it difficult then people will try and circumvent. If they truly want to stop pirating, they need to stop going down this path. Pragmatism is a valuable attribute but sadly lacking it seems.

    Everyday for work, I log in via a private vpn. Wonder how commercial entities will respond to VPN's being illegal.

      This regards to only blocking commercial VPN providers like Vypr, PIA, Nord etc, not the corp who set up their own VPNs.

    But what about those people that use VPN for privacy reasons? Ge so the government really wants my meta data.

      I'm surprised to have not seen this brought up in the debate so far, I don't really understand why nobody has. I'm suspicious as to the fact that this could be a move to have VPN users out of picture so that nobody is exempt from the metadata retention, but hopefully that won't happen

    Check this article https://www.unblocknetflix.co.uk/best-usa-netflix-dns-vpn-uk-free-vs-paid/ for more information about VPN and DNS

    I think Usage of VPN is not illegal. It just like a tourist come to visit you venue. 2ndly about making your own VPN is a good Idea if you have enough technical knowledge. But up to my knowledge more than 80% of people who use VPN are not technical enough to create and maintain their own VPN. So the best option for these 80% users is to use any third party VPN like you can find in this article. www.vpnranks.com/5-best-vpn-software. whether using a VPN is legal or illegal but one thing is confirmed that the VPN users are increased day by day as the restrictions are increased by various corporate and government entities.

    So the government wants to prevent me having secure access to the internet? They had better be prepared for litigation from people who have their confidential info stolen by hackers as a result on the user not being able to encrypt their traffic! I don't think this can ever work and it is a desperate last ditch grab by a perverse Hollywood filled by money grubbing morons who have not kept up with technology and think the ridiculous multi-million $ paypackets will continue forever...same goes for these corporate execs that actually think they are worth millions each year in salary & perks....time to wake up and realise they are worth less than the farmers who actually produce something of worth!

    Ban vpn tech? stupidity!

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