Relook outdated geography-based IP licensing

I appreciate Ms Jessica Lee's letter, which explains why the current territory-based licensing system denies some Netflix content available in one country to subscribers in another ("TV shows, movies licensed by territory"; yesterday).

Even so, from an economic perspective, territory-based intellectual property (IP) restrictions appear to be a form of anti-free trade protectionism, whereby a certain good or service is banned from being imported into a certain country.

From a free-market perspective, virtual private networks (VPNs) are merely the side effect of a much deeper, underlying problem: Content distribution systems have not kept up with technology - and this fact has been known for at least 15 years.

In the early 2000s, when MP3 pirating was rampant, The Economist criticised the recording industry for not adapting the distribution of recorded music to emerging technologies such as MP3 players and the Internet.

At that time, The Economist argued that if recorded music was properly distributed through such new technologies, MP3 piracy would decline - and it did, when new, borderless distribution models such as iTunes were introduced.

From a free-market perspective, virtual private networks are merely the side effect of a much deeper, underlying problem: Content distribution systems have not kept up with technology - and this fact has been known for at least 15 years.

Clearly, we are using early 20th century intellectual property laws to distribute content over 21st century technology.

For leading-edge companies such as Netflix, this is an admittedly difficult circumstance which they did not create.

Nevertheless, the industry has known about these contradictions for a long time.

Rather than addressing the problem's real cause, many content providers would sooner blame VPNs or their customers, when this last group is merely adapting to a highly inconsistent and unfair situation.

Would it not be better to follow The Economist's pro-free market approach and focus on reforming the current system of highly protectionist, territory-based intellectual property distribution?

We are long past the reel-and-projector movie era that invented territory-based content restrictions.

The outdated, geography-based licensing of intellectual property needs to be reinvented in a manner that leverages today's emerging technologies in a consistent, seamless and borderless manner.

That would be a win-win situation for both content providers and their customers.

Eric J. Brooks

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2016, with the headline 'Relook outdated geography-based IP licensing'. Print Edition | Subscribe