Streaming TV rift heads to court in New Zealand

Media companies contend that skirting regional restrictions on content violates copyright

Four New Zealand media companies filed legal proceedings Monday seeking to stop the use of a service that lets people in the country view online entertainment content that would normally be blocked.

Sky Network Television, Television New Zealand, Lightbox New Zealand and MediaWorks TV contend that Global Mode, an application developed by Bypass Network Services for ISPs, allows users to infringe copyright.

The companies have asked for an expedited hearing in Auckland's High Court "to provide certainty on the issue as quickly as possible," according to a statement.

Global Mode uses a network of proxy servers that resolve DNS (Domain Name System) queries in a way that makes it appear a person is in a country where content is authorised to play. It allows people to skirt around geoblocking, or the restriction of playback based on a device's IP address.

Last week, two small ISPs decided to withdraw offering Global Mode after receiving a letter threatening legal action by the media companies' law firm.

But CallPlus, which owns ISPs Slingshot, Orcon and Flip, has said it believes Global Model is legal and would continue to offer it.

Bypass Network Services said (PDF) on Monday it had not yet sought legal advice but welcomed a declaratory judgment. Such a ruling would resolve the question of Global Mode's legality without proceeding to a full-blown court case, the company said.

The media companies have argued Global Mode provides access to content that is not licensed for distribution in New Zealand, thereby violating copyright. Global Mode circumvents legitimate "technological protection measures," according to a letter sent to Bypass Network Services on Friday.

Many of the popular services accessed such as the BBC's iPlayer and Hulu have terms of service that prohibit the use of services such as Global Mode and VPNs (virtual private networks). The companies, however, have not yet taken technical steps to try to lock people using those services out.

Copyright experts have said the use of unblocking services is a grey area that hasn't been tested in court. In Australia, it's generally believed the services are not illegal, although some experts remain uncertain about their legal status. In New Zealand, the law does not specifically prevent their use, but some parts of copyright law could be used to argue it is illegal.

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