Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Lee Suckling: We've backed off illegal downloading

Do you think people have started listening to warnings against illegal downloads?
Photo / Thinkstock
Do you think people have started listening to warnings against illegal downloads? Photo / Thinkstock

When we were teenagers, this nifty little service called Napster came along. It allowed downloads of individual songs (over dial-up, no less) and was our first introduction to the modern era of entertainment downloads.

Napster was shut down and replaced by Limewire and others, though throughout the last decade, "torrents" have been the most popular way to obtain music, movies and TV shows that aren't accessible (or are severely delayed in release) here in New Zealand.

There's a bit of a moral problem using the above channels to download content - they're all illegal.

Transferring files between individuals (called peer-to-peer) is copyright infringement.

However, all of those "you wouldn't steal a car" anti-piracy advertisements seem to have rubbed off, as there's been a cardinal shift in the mindset of the modern generation in the last year or two. We're now happy, and very willing, to pay for content.

Do you agree with Lee's observations on downloading habits? Let us know in the comment section below.

Apple's iTunes store had a lot to do with this. For the first time, it allowed us to easily and quickly download music and movies. Broadband data allowances have expanded to accommodate for these kinds of downloads, and slowly but surely, more and more Kiwis have stopped illegal downloading in favour of reliable, high-quality content (and paying the owner for their product). After all, piracy really is quite 2001.

Since then, a streaming model of content consumption has emerged. It's more like renting than buying, and is prevalent in the music world through apps like Spotify, and for TV and films via Netflix, Hulu, and similar services.

The key problem with Netflix (and others), though, is they still haven't launched New Zealand versions - likely owing to those corporate rights distribution deals that create the broadcast monopoly in New Zealand. As a generation connected to the internet for over half of our lives now, we don't understand these restrictions. After all, the internet exists to allow open and democratic access to the world; whether you're in New York, Napier, or Nepal.

In 2013, many cottoned on to services such as Unblock-US and Unotelly, which, in very basic terms, bypass geographical censorship and make it appear like you're in the United States. Resulting is the ability to pay for Netflix and stream away to your heart's content - enabling us to see the films and TV shows that won't reach New Zealand for months.

Some moral dilemmas are presenting in using anti geo-blocking software to get to Netflix. Firstly, it's against Netflix's terms and conditions to use its software if you are not a resident of the United States. Moreover, you're also not supporting local New Zealand business when you pay an overseas supplier for their product.
But both of these dilemmas are flawed. In subscribing to Netflix, television and movie studios get paid for their work, because Netflix pays them - and we pay Netflix. Also, use of an anti geo-blocking service is completely legal in New Zealand.

In terms of devaluing New Zealand's commercial system by bypassing it and going straight to an international source, subscribing to Netflix is the same as online shopping.

We can't get want we want, at the same price afforded overseas, here in New Zealand. So, we buy offshore. It's a matter of the consumer's right to choose - just like when you buy a Marc Jacobs watch on ASOS because you can't buy what you desire at Pascoes.

Additionally, Kiwi broadcasters might not get their cut, but our ISPs are in fact profiting from Kiwi Netflix users - top shelf data plans are required to stream HD content. Therefore, the modern generation needn't morally dwell on T&C technicalities.

Unfortunately, all was almost lost a week ago. Geo-censorship reared its head as Netflix has changed its streaming technology to be incompatible with some Kiwi ISPs, namely Vodafone and Slingshot. This stopped much of New Zealand's access to Netflix; many subscribers took to internet forums to say they'd be forced back to illegal torrenting.

Unblock-US, a market leader in anti geo-blocking, contacted affected ISPs and informed them of a fix that would re-allow the access Kiwi Netflix subscribers had paid for. Within three days, both Vodafone and Slingshot had taken Unblock-US's advice and changed their streaming capabilities, and Netflix use resumed with very happy customers.

We can look even more positively to the future, too. A recent report from Australian publication Inside Film claims Netflix will indeed launch in Australasia in early 2015 - meaning any residual moral uncertainty will be wholly removed.

We live in a world of moral dilemmas, and we've come leaps and bounds in ethical downloading. All we want to do is pay for content, and anything that prevents moral and legal downloading will set us back in time, and passively participates in piracy.

Hard work has gone into changing the modern generation's view of what socially acceptable downloading is. It's our duty, given the plethora of legal options out there, to shame those who immorally download - for they represent a part of our generation we'd rather forget.

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Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Writer Lee Suckling pens his opinionated thoughts every Wednesday, covering issues surrounding Generation Y, New Zealand's gay community, and the ethical dilemmas presented every day to those living in a tech-centric modern world. Outside of the New Zealand Herald, Lee writes for a range of magazines and newspapers across New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

Read more by Lee Suckling

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