A recent hack attack at Sony, most likely carried out by North Korean sympathisers aiming to keep the film ‘The Interview’ out of the movie theatres, has revealed interesting information about the company. In addition to the actors’ pay for the film, it uncovered more details about the relationship between Sony and Netflix, Ars Technica reported.
According to this tech website, Sony is angry with Netflix for not adequately combating piracy. Strange that Sony should say that; wasn’t Netflix meant to be the lawful alternative to piracy? True, but still Sony is angry.
As the owner of much of the content on Netflix (including Breaking Bad), Sony licensed the streaming service to distribute content in a number of specific countries. This is why Netflix, or at any rate certain content, is not available in certain countries (e.g. Australia). Sony now claims that many viewers in countries including Australia nevertheless have access to Sony content, using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN allows them to first connect to another computer before connecting to the Netflix service. If that second computer is located in a country where Netflix is available, Netflix thinks the Australian users are genuinely based in that other country and gives them access to its films and series (after receiving their payment, that is).
In Sony’s view, this constitutes a breach of the licence agreement, given that Netflix has not paid for transmitting the content to Australia. It therefore argues that Netflix ought to do more to cease the breach, for example by blocking PayPal to avoid anonymous payments. Needless to say, Netflix refuses to do that, not wanting to create barriers to legitimate subscribers.
From a copyright perspective, it is debatable whether Netflix is the actual party publishing the (in this case, Sony) content in Australia, as the request to make that content available to the relevant subscribers originates in a licensed country. It is just impossible for the platform to verify whether subscribers retrieving content are genuinely located in a particular licensed country or are in actual fact based in Australia and using a VPN.
I believe this is yet another of the many examples of traditional owners who desperately try to regulate the open Internet. The Internet simply is not bound by country borders and it is not up to providers like Netflix to pretend that it is. In an ideal world, Sony would grant Netflix a worldwide licence straightaway to screen Breaking Bad anywhere and everywhere. Unfortunately, that is impracticable due to differences between the various national copyright regimes. Although it remains to be seen how this situation will unfold, I hope it will not prompt Sony to withdraw from an innovative initiative like Netflix for the sole reason of being unable to enforce its copyrights in specific countries.
Incidentally, yesterday Sony announced its decision not to release ‘The Interview’ in Asia, arguing that it is ‘unsuitable for the Asian market’. Bearing in mind the agitation the film has caused so far, I think that’s quite an understatement…