Is It Legal To Access US Netflix With A VPN?

Is it legal to watch US Netflix?

Virtual private networks (VPNs) have many legitimate purposes. They're also used to cheekily circumvent geo-blocks on overseas sites like US Netflix - often against the express wishes of rights holders. Like most online technologies, government legislation is currently a bit vague on what is and isn't allowed. So is it legal to stream restricted content through a VPN? Let's find out.

In short; yes. There are no laws prohibiting the use of VPNs in Australia. Furthermore, deliberately bypassing geo-restrictions to access overseas content is not considered illegal in Australia. (At least, not yet.)

Here's the official stance of the Turnbull government as it appears on our current Prime Minister's website:

The Copyright Act does not make it illegal to use a VPN to access overseas content. While content providers often have in place international commercial arrangements to protect copyright in different countries or regions, which can result in ‘geoblocking’, circumventing this is not illegal under the Copyright Act.

As much as rights holders may wish otherwise, you cannot be penalised for joining restricted overseas services via VPN trickery instead of paying for the local service. (Sorry Foxtel.) Australian cloud legal service provider LawPath recently explained the legalities in greater detail:

The reasons for the ‘green light’ status for Aussies is that this is not an issue of copying, downloading or reproducing content. Rather, users are merely streaming content. Where the fine line is between streaming and downloading is still being debated. The argument is that when one is streaming, users are only caching the content and not producing a copy which would otherwise be illegal.

If you want to scrutinise this issue more closely there could be the potential for breaches of commercial contracts with users and their respective subscribers. However, this is minutely minor and is not worth taking legal action against those abusing the system. There is a review examining this issue more closely [but] it seems unlikely that the use of VPNs will become illegal in Australia.

With that said, dodging geo-blocks to access overseas content is a violation of the provider's terms of service. When you sign up to a service like Netflix, you are explicitly agreeing to adhere to their rules.

If you get caught, these companies are well within their rights to ban you from the service. Currently, Netflix's preferred method is to shut down access to VPNs rather than come after customers directly - and it's making life difficult for many Aussie subscribers.

Fortunately, there are some VPN services that have managed to stay one step ahead. Click here for an overview of what popular VPNs are doing to combat this issue.

More on VPNs:

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.

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Comments

    How could it possibly be illegal if you are paying for the content, even the Digital rights owners are getting their share. So sick of Australian media rights owners dragging us backwards, instead of embracing technology that could make more for them in the future, if they weren't so bloody greedy now.

    for: australian copyright law allows for it to happen..
    against: there is an argument about whether this is bypassing drm and its legality but that is yet to be tested in court.
    against: you are breaking a civil agreement / contract about not watching outside of the geolocated area in the terms of service.

    so, if you don't mind breaking a contract and the contract being potentially, theoretically, terminated, then its fine. is it a crime? no.

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