TV companies finally act over device used to let viewers watch content blocked in New Zealand.

Combined action by broadcasters against the Global Plus service has been a long time coming.

On Thursday entertainment and television players Spark, MediaWorks, Sky and TVNZ fired a warning shot to Slingshot, Orcon and Bypass Network Services, saying they are breaching copyright and operating outside the law by providing customers access to otherwise blocked international TV and movie services.

In a joint statement, the four companies said they had sent the two telcos and others requests to cease the operation of "Global Mode" or similar services that get around the blocks stopping people in New Zealand accessing certain services.

Slingshot's Global Mode, for instance, has long allowed New Zealanders access to the US-version of Netflix, which launched a New Zealand version here last month.


The way that backdoor access to TV content has been promoted as an alternative to mainstream pay TV services means that some sort of action has become inevitable.

While the notion of backdoor access to overseas TV services has been around a long time, using "global mode" services has loomed large since the flood of new internet TV services arrived on the scene.

In particular the arrival of the global service Netflix has brought the simmering row to a boil.

The country's biggest media players and Spark's Lightbox television streaming service argue "companies who set out to profit by marketing and providing access to content they haven't paid for are operating outside the law and in breach of copyright."

They do so by setting up a false address in the US which allows people to access content on the internet.

For consumers, access to overseas services allows the viewing of content that in New Zealand is otherwise locked away behind paywalls of other pay TV services such as Sky TV, Lightbox or even free to air TV.

But who is responsible for policing the copyright?

Hollywood studios are charging New Zealand Sky, Lightbox and other broadcasters for exclusive New Zealand rights to TV shows but there has been no rush to stop backdoor access through the US.


Local broadcasters say some have been more interested than others and it could undermine the prices they pay for so called exclusives. As for the new kid on the block Netflix, which is trying to get global rights to everything, it says there is only so much that it can do. The reality is that it is not concerned about losing a small number of customers in New Zealand when it picks up money from the US anyway.

Late on Thursday CallPlus chief Mark Callander said he had seen the media statement about the letter that had 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 incumbents had made these threats in the past and were just trying to "bully" the smaller guys to prevent NZ catching up with the rest of the world, he said.

But Sky TV chief executive John Fellet described the legal action as "a big step" for the industry.

He said it was not aimed at the arrival of the Netflix internet TV service which began in New Zealand and Australia last week and he expected Netflix would be concerned also about its New Zealand rights being undermined.

The action was aimed at organisations that were seeking to profit from copyright they did not own.

However, he said changes to the media sector with Netflix and other internet TV services had made the issue more apparent and led to Sky and other industry players joining together for the action.

"It's getting harder to make money competing in this country with people who are not paying to use our content.

"They want to profit from rights that they do not have," Fellet said.

Sky said that the point of the action was to "get an understanding of what is legal and what is not".