There aren’t many options for South Africans to watch movies or TV series online without a pay TV subscription, and working around geographic filters to use services such as Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer is illegal.
Nicholas Hall, technology lawyer at Michalsons Attorneys, explains that strictly speaking, accessing content outside the region it has been licensed for – even if you paid for it – is copyright infringement.
While not criminal, Hall said that it is possible for rights holders to sue offenders, though he doesn’t believe they would.
“In my personal opinion, I think the rights holders would prefer people to access the content this way, where they will derive some revenue, as opposed people just pirating the content,” Hall said.
There is also the threat of a law suit for breach of contract, which Hall explained is also “not criminal, but it is actionable.”
However, even with this being the case Hall said that the platforms themselves are also not likely to take action.
“In most cases you are paying for the services, such as in the case of Netflix and HuluPlus, and so are a revenue stream,” Hall said.
MultiChoice working to stop bypassing region-locks
“To my mind the party that would be most interested in taking action are the broadcasters in South Africa, namely TopTV and MultiChoice,” Hall said, as people are unlikely to use their services to access content if they are signing up to online video services.
“The DStv On Demand service is certainly a step in the right direction, and hopefully we will see either DStv expand their services to include series, or Netflix coming into South Africa,” Hall said.
He pointed to the fact that Netflix has launched in Brazil, saying that they will hopefully come to South Africa as well.
“Also hopefully at a global industry level we will see a move towards global releases for series and movies – which is starting to happen,” Hall said.
When MultiChoice was asked about its feelings on the matter, a spokesperson confirmed that the company “works closely with the rights suppliers to prevent this kind of illegal activity.”
Universally accepted business model
MultiChoice explained that the studios and content producers who own the rights to the content sell it to them and other TV providers for our territory at a price.
“We are not able to to take this content to regions outside of those that we have licensed and the studios agree to not deliver those movies and TV series in our territory directly via the Internet,” MultiChoice said.
“This is a business model that is universally accepted.”
BitTorrent doesn’t pirate content, people do
While consuming content not licensed for your region is copyright infringement (or “piracy” in the vernacular), Hall said that using the tools that let you bypass region locks is actually perfectly legal.
“I’ve looked at the terms of service for UnoTelly, and they put no limitation on who can use their services,” Hall said.
“It must be remembered that the service they are offering is very much akin to a tool.”
Using the tool (the UnoTelly or virtual private network service in this case) is not illegal unless you use it for illegal purposes, Hall said.
“It can be viewed in the same light a torrent services,” he added. “There is nothing inherently illegal about torrent services or sites unless they are used – by the user – for illegal purposes.”