Price inquiry calls for end of geoblocking

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Price inquiry calls for end of geoblocking

The report, titled At What Cost, is tellingly subheaded 'It pricing and the Australia Tax', and at a quick skim it looks like it could be quite the incendiary document.

While the entire report covers the basics of why we pay more, and what the people making us pay more are using as justifications for higher prices of technology, software, and games in Australia, possibly the most interesting section is headed 'Copyright, circumvention, competition, and remedies'.

One thing pointed out by the report is that current copyright law pretty much gives a massive pricing advantage to rights holders, and the Treasury department reported to the inquiry that "intellectual property laws provide various rights for the protection of economic investment in innovation and creative efforts. To the extent that these rights allow rights holders to control the marketing and distribution of goods and services, there is a potential for price discrimination, should the rights holder choose to do so."

Parallel imports are then discussed as a viable way to avoid restrictive local pricing. While many of the restrictions to parallel importing have been removed from Australian law, the report notes that while some restrictions do still exist, removing those that remain would go a long way to giving Australian consumers real power to access cheaper, legitimate goods, and in turn force Australian prices lower.

But perhaps the biggest bombshell in the report - and we're really only scratching the surface, as reading it all is going to take some time - seems to be in regard to geoblocking. This refers to various regional, DRM-based lockouts that prevent Australian consumers from accessing overseas content services. As Erin Turner of hte Australian Competition and Consumer Action Network told the inquiry, "consumers, due to the high prices in Australia, use a number of methods to purchase overseas—or at least the particularly savvy consumers do. They might shop while they are travelling; they might purchase through online stores that know they are selling to Australia; or, as we are increasingly seeing, services are offered on online—virtual private networks or even stores—that give you a fake US address and then courier products to Australia. They allow you to access those cheaper products."

The ultimate legal opinion on geoblocking, the report notes, is a massive grey area.

The report then goes on to recommend that "the Australian Government amend the Copyright Act’s section 10(1) anti-circumvention provisions to clarify and secure consumers’ rights to circumvent technological protection measures that control geographic market segmentation." The report further recommends that the Government actively educate consumers about geoblocking and the techniques used to circumvent it.

Most interesting is that while it's clear that the inquiry has considered recommending an outright ban on geoblocking, wiser heads have suggested that it may not be necessary, and that continued consumer use of geododging techniques would eventually undermine the process without the need for tricky legislation. To that end, the report recommends "that the Australian Government consider enacting a ban on geoblocking as an option of last resort, should persistent market failure exist in spite of the changes to the Competition and Consumer Act and the Copyright Act recommended in this report."

And all of that is just the tip of the iceberg. It's certainly clear, however, that this report has a lot of teeth.

If you want to have a look at the report yourself - and you should! - check it out here.

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