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Netflix To Crack Down on VPN And Proxy Users

Netflix is one of the most available Internet streaming companies in the world. As of January, 2016, only China, North Korea, Syria and the disputed territory of Crimea in the Ukraine does not have some form of access to its’ services. While Netflix has always been rather tight lipped about their viewership numbers, various sources have concluded the number is above 75 million people. Keeping in mind that an arguable 40% of the world’s population has access to reliable, high speed internet, it’s a fairly impressively-sized membership.

Netflix cracking down on VPN and proxy users simply makes no sense. The only thing really limiting full scale coverage is Internet availability, billing, and restrictive practices of various governments. Netflix made the news, in fact, during the argument between American cinema and the North Korean government when Seth Rogen and James Franco made their movie “The Interview” about Kim Jon-un – It was pulled from several American theatres, but Netflix gave their membership access to it. The controversy likely increased the sales of the movie and the continued growth of Netflix’s viewership. They have also shown an unedited version of “India’s Daughter” – a documentary about the violent gang rape and murder of an Indian medical student that their government banned. This is one reason why they are so popular. Even people who have little interest in the humor found in many Seth Rogen movies, lots of people have decided to view it, just because North Korea and India tried to ban it. This is one of the draws to VPN and proxy servers since citizens of other countries want to see content that may be blocked by the government. Netflix cracking down on VPN and proxy use just makes people want to view the outlawed content more.

Unfortunately, while they have grown in accessibility, the content varies from country to country. Aside from the controversial films, different television networks that sell content licenses to Netflix are restricted due to cable companies and various legislation. Geofiltering is an agreement that the licensee (Netflix) to popular shows will use a geolocation service that ensures members can only access certain contain from certain zones.

People get spurred on when governments try to limit their access to something they want. So as Netflix has grown in availability, the practice of using Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and online proxy servers that allow viewers to use another country’s IP address in order to view another country’s catalogue. There is a particular draw to view the American catalogue – over a third of English-speaking neighbors in Canada have been counted as having used VPNs or proxies which likely means there is more; 25% of Internet users have admitted to using these methods to gain access to more viewing choices, worldwide.

Netflix may be promising to crack down on VPN and proxy users, but the original reasoning of Netflix and the sheer size of their audience will make it impossible to allow the crackdown to work. The very nature of entertainment has shifted by virtue of the fight against banned content, government control, and the big business of Hollywood. The use of this technology is showing a vast disregard for the committed practices of the big studios – and the loss of value considering “copyright protection” – shows that people are not compelled to follow a law they feel is preventing them from enjoying what they want.

The decreasing viewership of shows like The Academy Awards and online protests about who has power in Hollywood on various social networking sites like Twitter shows that Netflix’s blend of high quality original programming and willingness to show censored material is outweighing the idea that copyright protects the artist. Since only a handful of artists are recognized by the Academy, the copyright isn’t protecting newcomers – so why bother following the law?

Netflix is in a bind between their will to have the same catalogue for everyone and the copyright owners – the major studios like Time Warner, Sony Pictures, Disney, NBC, and 20th Century Fox among them. While they have started to put out a growing collection of original programming, these companies are the main barricade between viewers and Netflix. VPN and proxy users chafe against the big studios cutting access to their products and they begin to care less about the cost and risk involved in making big pictures since the same, small group of people own most of the entertainment business. Viewers rationalize using VPN and proxy services when they see repetitive storylines, multiple versions of the same story, and the same actors getting the big pay checks.

So when Netflix announced in early 2016 that they were going to restrict VPN and proxy users, they were really talking to the heads of the major studios to say that “they’ll try” – because their past behavior and official statements in the past (along with basic common sense) makes it very obvious that this goes against what they really want. Full access to a global catalogue is the best way to improve their membership. Now, that’s not to say that the very long-term attitude won’t shift if their collection of original programs starts to outweigh what Hollywood produces – but we are a ways from that.

Netflix has great PR in its favor because the Hollywood crowd has been putting out less challenging, and more formulaic, content for years. Their Academy Awards have slumped in importance as ratings for the televised program decreased by 16% in 2015. The trend two years in a row on Twitter has included #OscarsSoWhite as the social media site shows displeasure with the repeatedly bland collection of the same celebrities getting the awards year after year. Even though they announced a crackdown on VPN and proxy users, viewers see them as the progress provider and the government and big studios as the villains.

Yes, Netflix’s appeal is more social and progressive than the studios and governments protecting the copyrights will admit. When a large portion of the population decides that a law isn’t worth following, it shows that the balance in that industry has shifted.

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