The parliamentary inquiry into high prices being charged by major US players in Australia’s IT market is to take up Apple Australia MD Tony King’s suggestion of approaching record labels to discuss the issue of Australians paying higher prices for digital music.
And it is likely to further explore “geo-blocking” issues which were outlined in particular by Microsoft MD Pip Marlow during last Friday’s grilling of King, Marlow and Adobe A/NZ chief Paul Robson.
Marlow admitted Microsoft used geo-blocking – effectively preventing local consumers from buying goods from foreign-based online stores offering cheaper prices – to (as she put it) “comply with local classification systems, adhere to licensing arrangements, business strategies, and assess investment and support for business in various regions”.
While no further witnesses are likely to be called, the inquiry is now due to enter a period of deliberations to consider the evidence it has received and make recommendations. A close look at the legitimacy or otherwise of geo-blocking is high on the cards.
Ed Husic, a vociferous Labor member of the committee, yesterday told The Australian: “We do need to test geo-blocking as being used as a genuine attempt to protect copyright, or is it being used just to protect profit margins?
“If it is being used for just that, just as we saw the end of region coding in years past, we should be prepared to say goodbye to geo-blocking for the same reason.”
Consumer advocacy group Choice has published guidelines which it claims can help Australian consumers circumvent geo-blocking – common on services such as Amazon.com, as well as major computer companies. Its guidelines include use of virtual private network services to avoid being directed to US companies’ Australian Web sites. Among the VPN sites suggested by Choice are: TorVPN, LogMeIn Hamachi, Hotspot Shield, HMA, IPVanish and Overplay.