Rarely do the players in the TV market set aside their fierce competition and unify in support of a common cause. However, the emergence of global mode options on internet service providers Slingshot, Orcon and other companies has risen sufficient concern for MediaWorks, Sky, TVNZ and Spark (the owner of Lightbox) to come together.
A joint statement by the quartet of companies today stated that they are "taking action against internet and technology companies who sell and promote services that enable access to international geo-blocked TV and movie services."
The companies claim that services such as global mode breach copyright laws by providing clients with access to content that television networks and SVOD providers would have to pay for to screen in New Zealand.
The statement said: "We pay considerable amounts of money for content rights, particularly exclusive content rights. These rights are being knowingly and illegally impinged which is a significant issue that may ultimately need to be resolved in court in order to provide future clarity for all parties involved. This is not about taking action against consumers; this is a business to business issue and is about creating a fair playing field."
Despite stepping on the toes of copyright holders, Slingshot general manager Taryn Hamilton previously told StopPress that the service could potentially reduce the extent of illegal downloads in New Zealand.
“We know that people would prefer to pay a reasonable price for the content they want to watch rather than pirating it," he said in a previous article on global more. "It’s time the content providers and rights holders got their act together and offered Kiwis the same content – for the same price – that people in other parts of the world have access to. Until they do, people will need to use a service like Global Mode to pay for top-quality online content, or continue to steal it."
Hamilton also said that he though it unlikely that any international copyright holders would take legal action against Slingshot.
"It would be a terrible look for these companies to take action as they would be punishing New Zealanders that legitimately want to pay to consume their service. The alternative in many cases at the moment is to steal it, which is the worst case scenario for all involved. What would their message be? That they don’t want Kiwis to consume content at a fair price? That they want to be able to charge significantly more than they charge others around the world? Or is it that they’re just not bothered to accommodate our small island in the South Pacific?"
As things stand at the moment, global mode is something of a grey legal area in that while New Zealand's Copyright Act of 1994 prohibits circumventing technical protection measures (TPM) placed on a piece of copyrighted content, it does not count processes stopping the playback of content in New Zealand as a TPM.
If anything, the action being taken by MediaWorks, Sky, TVNZ and Lightbox could help to clarify the position in New Zealand. However, even if ISPs are banned from using global mode services, this will do little dissuade more advanced web users from using proxy IP addresses to access geo-locked sites from New Zealand.
UPDATE: CallPlus Group chief executive Mark Callander has released the following statement in response to the action being taken by the four companies:
"We have seen the media statement about the letter that has been sent. Once we have seen the letter and reviewed it, we will be in a position to make a statement. As we’ve said before, we’re confident that Global Mode is perfectly legal. The Big Boy incumbents have made these threats in the past so we’re not expecting anything particularly exciting. They’re just trying to bully the smaller guys to prevent New Zealand catching up with the rest of the world. There are many other services in the market today that do exactly the same thing and have done for years, for example Unblock-Us, but for some reason attacking the innovators in New Zealand is their preferred approach. We will respond to them, media, and the New Zealand public once we’ve reviewed any letter that we receive."