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Govt Urged To 'Free Geoblocks', Promote Grey Market

By Oonagh Reidy & Computer Daily News | Wednesday | 31/07/2013

AS a parliamentary inquiry confirms Australians are charged 50% MORE on average for tech gear, calls for a geoblocking ban get louder

"The Committee concluded that many IT products are more expensive in Australia because of regional pricing strategies implemented by major vendors and copyright holders," the parlimentary report into IT pricing, released this week, showed.

This rampant tech rip-offs (on average we pay 50% more than consumers elsewhere) is occurring on products including Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Windows, Apple iTunes, Dell PC and printer cartridges, to name but a few. 

The report also condemned geoblocking, the "erected virtual barriers" that are are preventing consumers from comparing prices and purchasing online, by refusing to recognise local internet addresses, credit card numbers. 

The IT pricing inquiry committee, chaired by SA Labor MHR Nick Champion, suggests Parliament could certainly act to make geo-blocking easier and parallel importation of IT goods - also known as "grey marketing" - more readily available. 

The government said it is reviewing the findings.  

Consumer groups are urging government action on geo-blocking and parallel importing in the wake of this week's tabling of the much-awaited parliamentary report on IT pricing.

In practice, however, it is unlikely the government can force Apple, Microsoft and Co to lower their prices as parliament has no power to regulate prices, which are unlikely to change radically, despite the report's findings.  

"Our research shows Australians cop a raw deal on digital prices, and today's report provides a much-needed trigger for government action to terminate the so-called 'Australia tax'," says CHOICE director of campaigns and communications, Matt Levey.

Levey, who gave evidence at the inquiry, said vendors have been "artificially carve up markets and sustain high prices in regions like Australia."

The consumer watchdog, who has campaigned tirelessly on the issue has released a guide on how to get around geo blocking.

These include using third-party delivery services, such as MyUS.com, Lil' Shoppa, Bongo and Australian-based company Price USA, as well as jumping on virtual private networks (VPN). 

These clever networks connect to a server in the same country as the site you're attempting to access, say Apple  or Microsoft US.  

The legality of circumventing geo-blocking is a grey area. 

Some copyright experts claim those who promote devices or programs that encourage people to infringe copyright are breaking the law. 

CHOICE believes consumers who circumvent measures used to protect copyrighted content should be exempt from what could be construed as a breach of copyright because they're accessing products and services that are knowingly sold by the copyright holder. 

One major recommendation by the committee is for lifting of parallel importation restrictions still found in the Copyright Act, and that a parallel importation defence in the Trade Marks Act be reviewed and broadened to ensure it is effective in allowing the importation of genuine goods. 

On geo-blocking, it has urged the Government to amend the Copyright Act to "clarify and secure consumers' rights to circumvent technological protection measures that control geographic market segmentation."

And if those recommendations don't work, it reckons Canberra should ban geo-blocking outright - though some observers say it's hard to see how this can be done, given that much of the geo-blocking originates in other countries, mainly the US, and thus beyond the reach of Australian legislation.

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