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A New Report Calls for the End of Geo-Restrictions, More Price Competition for eBooks in Australia

3097713445_1257a9fc84[1]The local prices for digital content and software are so high in Australia that the Australian government is recommending that Australian consumers ignore geographic restrictions and buy their content from cheaper websites in other countries.

This recommendation comes as the conclusion to a year long investigation into why Australians are charged so much more than the rest of the English-speaking world for tech products and services. The "Inquiry into IT Pricing" was a far-ranging look into everything from Windows licenses and related services to digital content, including music, video, and ebooks.

Yes, ebooks. The report mentioned receiving a number of complaints about ebook prices:

  • E-books: submitters compared the prices of more than 120 e-books. Price comparisons of books sold both in Australia and the US revealed average price differences of 16 per cent, while the median difference was 13 per cent.

You can find the report here, but the tl;dr version is pretty simple. Prices are too high, and the report includes ten recommendations that are intended to help Australian consumers find ways around geo-restrictions so they can legally acquire content sold in other countries.

One section of the report even suggested that Australia’s copyright law should be amended to make it clear that it is legal for Australian consumers to get around geo-restrictions.

Recommendation 5: The Committee recommends that the Australian Government amend the Copyright Act’s section 10(1) anti-circumvention provisions to clarify and secure consumers’ rights to circumvent technological protection measures that control geographic market segmentation.

The report goes on to suggest that the Australian government should teach consumers how to get around restrictions:

Recommendation 6: The Committee further recommends that the Australian Government investigate options to educate Australian consumers and businesses as to:

  • the extent to which they may circumvent geo-blocking mechanisms in order to access cheaper legitimate goods;
  • the tools and techniques which they may use to do so; and
  • the way in which their rights under the Australian Consumer Law may be affected should they choose to do so.

And it gets better from there. The next recommendation is that Australian laws be amended so that consumers have a clear right to sell the digital content they legally purchased (I am not making that up, I swear), and that consumer protection laws should be amended so that geo-restrictions in terms of use contracts are legally unenforceable in Australia.

I cannot comment on whether any of these recommendations will be followed, but I sure hope they are. Many of these suggestions cut through the legacy media’s nonsensical restrictions.

We live in an age where the web makes it possible to communicate with, work with, or sell to just about everyone anywhere in the world, and yet some moribund media companies want to restrict who can buy what based on your physical location. In 2013 that is simply nonsense, and it is high time that those restrictions are done away with.

Some not so sure that this report will be as influential as I would hope. I found this story via The Age, and they pointed out that some of these recommendations might cause Hollywood and its ilk to simply not license content in Australia at all:

While it’s great to see the IT Pricing Inquiry have the guts to actually point out the flaws in the current system, it’s hard to see the recommendations coming into effect. Hollywood’s international licensing deals are built on the foundation of territorial rights and geo-blocking. No amount of complaining from one country on the other side of the world is likely to change this. If the Australian government does declare their terms of service null and void, they’ll simply take their bat and ball and go home. Apple could refuse to offer service to Australians, while Netflix and Hulu could simply ramp up their geo-blocking efforts. Hollywood studios could refuse to license movies to Australian rent services such as Quickflix and Bigpond Movies. It’s unlikely to come to this, but Hollywood really holds all the cards in this game.

I could see this happening. It would be a stupid move because it would remove any possibility that Australians could pay for the content, but it could still happen.

The Age

image by “Caveman Chuck” Coker

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Anna Maguire July 31, 2013 um 4:19 am

Great to see you reporting on this. In Australia we’ve had to suffer these crazy price hikes for so long. At least these days we do have access to a variety of digital content. Wind back to early 2010 and we were even more cut off. While we’ve been stung on software, I was particularly interested in the pricing of ebooks. Many people already work their way around these issues, but it would be nice if Australians were able to do so legally!

Sweetpea July 31, 2013 um 7:11 am

"I could see this happening. It would be a stupid move because it would remove any possibility that Australians could pay for the content, but it could still happen."

I think it would also be stupid, because they’d prove conclusively that they only care for profit. And in this day and age, showing that you only care for your profit is inviting people to rip and distribute your stuff.

Nae July 31, 2013 um 7:56 pm

Thanks for this post. Its great that people are becoming aware of the geographic issue. Its a major pain in most aspects.
Even if the Australian Government don’t take on these recommendations, they do need to do something for the problem.

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