Within the past week, changes to copyright laws in Australia have been proposed, quite noticeably coinciding with the recent launch of Netflix Australia which has sparked concerns regarding illegal downloading across the country. The intended revisions, which aim to shut down websites that specifically facilitate piracy, have turned the spotlight to VPNs, and their providers, with many questioning whether virtual private networks will be sucked into what is being referred to as the ‘anti piracy crossfire’.
Interestingly, this is not the first time this year that the permissibility of VPN services has been called into question. In January, new copyright laws in Canada forced changes that now see VPN providers legally having to retain customer logs for durations of 6 months. While some are examining what this means for VPNs, particularly in Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom where VPN usage is relatively common, it is extremely unlikely that VPN services will become involved in the legalities of these law changes, and here’s why:
Determining VPN usage is a very complex process that could wrongfully incriminate innocent users, and could cast doubt on VPN providers offering legal, secure, and vital services that are an essential tool within many different industries around the world. Hardware company Black & Decker, for example, uses a business VPN model to create a centralised network that makes it straightforward for them to operate from multiple international locations. What many are forgetting is that, first and foremost, VPNs are used for privacy, and for secure data transfer.
Legalities of VPN Use
While VPN usage has undoubtedly evolved over recent years, it is challenging for VPN providers to be dragged into the piracy argument unless they are explicitly marketing themselves as a way of facilitating piracy. While it is possible to find VPN providers that do this, most reputable providers offer their services for business use and to encourage better internet security at a time when online fraud is rising as the result of ‘high tech criminals’ who search for weakness in protocols.
Services such as EasyHide-VPN clearly state that their product is intended for privacy only, and that any illegal downloading is the sole responsibility of the user. Terms and conditions are similar across many platforms, essentially removing VPN providers from the equation. Should users be violating their country’s copyright laws, VPNs will not be held responsible. Ultimately, it’s the equivalent of a car manufacturer being held responsible for reckless driving behavior. Using a VPN is a legal activity.
There are, of course, grey areas when it comes to VPN usage. Many providers do promote their services based on the ability to access Netflix media content from outside of the subscription country. However, once again it becomes difficult to associate VPN services with behavior traditionally associated with piracy. Netflix have made it clear that they are aware that VPNs are being used to access regionally restricted content, yet they have also made it clear that they are not taking measures to crack down on VPN usage – at least not currently. Earlier this year, Netflix CPO Neil Hunt stated that ‘people who are using a VPN to access our service from outside of the area will find that it still works exactly as it has always done’.
With the case of Netflix, users still pay the subscription fee for the country they are accessing the content from via VPN. ‘Piracy’ is described as theft or illegal violence, neither of which applies to those paying for a service, and receiving said service. While licensing laws are in place which can affect whether downloading or streaming is considered to be illegal or not, Netflix openly swap and change content based on current trends, with many movies and TV shows not being currently available, despite no valid issues relating to international licensing.
VPNs Remain Safe & Secure
Although some users have been made anxious by recent changes to copyright laws, it appears that VPN services will not be affected by the amendments. VPN use for privacy and business issues is legal, and even international content access is considered to be a grey area in this instance as behaviors do not match the definition of piracy that these law changes are intended to target. VPNs will remain safe and secure in spite of these changes.