My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that “geo-blocking” has become standard practice among broadcasters, sports leagues, and music services that use technologies to identify the likely location of an Internet user in real-time and block the content in some circumstances. From World Cup broadcasts to Hulu.com (a popular U.S. video site) to Spotify (a European music service), Canadians often find themselves unable to access content and unsure who is to blame.
While some have misleadingly suggested that outdated laws are the reason behind the blocking, the reality is that geo-blocking is invariably a business issue, not a legal one. Indeed, geo-blocking occurs worldwide – U.S. residents are similarly unable to use Spotify and are blocked from accessing the CBC’s streaming coverage of the World Cup. Rather than a reaction to older laws, the geo-blocking approach is actually an attempt to preserve an older business model, namely content licencing on a country-by-country or market-by-market approach [note that I say older, not outdated – territorial licencing obviously makes financial sense in some situations].