VPN copyright issue

Why block overseas content from willing subscribers?

A woman watching programmes with the use of a steaming media player.
A woman watching programmes with the use of a steaming media player. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

While it is entirely proper and just to ensure that intellectual property is protected, virtual private networks (VPNs) and industry demands for their banishment are not a straightforward intellectual property case ("VPN tech being reviewed under Copyright Act"; yesterday).

Unlike file sharing services which have been used to steal intellectual property without paying its owners due royalties, many VPN users are willing to pay for the media content they access, and, in many cases, even do so.

They are merely using VPNs to access movies, TV series or sports events which are not available in Singapore, but which are strangely available to subscribers of the same entertainment service companies within the United States.

Thus, if one legally subscribes to Netflix, there are many TV series and movies which are unavailable to Singapore Netflix subscribers, but which Singapore subscribers can easily access from any Wi-Fi connection within the United States itself.

Similarly, weekly American TV series are available to Americans via Hulu, but an overseas Singaporean, even if he subscribes to Hulu in the United States, cannot access these same TV shows once he lands in Singapore.

The real question is: Why are companies such as Netflix and Hulu not allowing paying Singapore subscribers to access the same intellectual content as users of their same service in the US?

Could they not merely charge those in Singapore an additional fee to cover any cross-border intellectual property issues involved? Would that not make the whole issue of using VPNs to access blocked content irrelevant?

Singaporeans are ready to legally pay for the right to access such exclusive content without having to use VPNs.

Therefore, before any new laws affecting VPNs are passed, firms such as Hulu and Netflix need to explain why they make so much of their content unavailable to Singaporeans who are willing to legally pay for it.

Eric J. Brooks

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Why block overseas content from willing subscribers?'. Subscribe