This VPN debate has been a gray area in some countries whereas in others such as Australia, they are legal.
Are Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) legal in Australia?
No one likes being on the wrong side of the law or being caught with legal troubles. The fact that you’re reading this is enough proof of that.
VPNs and Content Restrictions
You’ve probably tried to access a site only to find out you’re restricted from accessing it. The site’s content might be blocked, due to geographical location. This is the annoying reality of the internet today. However, there is a way you can skirting this restriction and access the content using a VPN.
The majority of the Aussie populace likes streaming TV shows, sports events and documentaries. However, you’d be surprised that several streaming platform aren’t available in Australia even though it is a ripe market.
Services such as HBO Now and Amazon Prime are yet to be launched in Australia up to date. Those available in Australia such as Netflix come with limited libraries compared to the libraries of other countries.
Worse still, subscribers are blocked from accessing libraries outside their region due to geo-restriction measures set by the streaming service provider. If you tried watching a title that’s not available in the Netflix Australia library, you’ll receive an error message notifying you that the title you selected is not available in your region.
This is a frustrating experience since Aussies pay almost the same amount as subscribers in the US but still get shortchanged. This is where VPNs come in handy. Using a VPN, you can access geo-blocked blocked content by rerouting your traffic through an intermediary server in the country where the content is available for streaming.
You can also use the VPN to sign up to streaming services such as HBO Now even though they’re not officially available. The process may seem lengthy but it is worth it as you get access to many well-regarded TV shows and movies.
What does a VPN do?
VPNs, short for Virtual Private Networks, are tools that provide online anonymity as well as security by masking your device’s actual IP address and consequently your location. By extension, these tools have also found use in unblocking geo-restricted content. Their effectiveness in these applications has made them an absolute necessity for netizens.
VPNs make it appear like you’re accessing internet from a different location than you are in reality. When visiting a website or web page using a VPN connection, your traffic is routed through a server of your choice. The site will see the IP address of the server instead of that of your device.
How is this helpful?
The server you connect to determines the IP address that will be visible. This means you can change your IP location to any place you want so long as the VPN you use has servers in that location.
Here is where it gets fun. You can use the VPN to make streaming service providers think you are in a different country or region when in reality you’re not. You are then able to get access to titles that are otherwise unavailable in your actual location. For instance, you can access and stream TV shows/ movies from the Netflix US library even if you’re actually in Australia.
In the past few years, however, streaming service providers have started blocking VPNs that unblock their platforms. Only a few such as ExpressVPN and CyberGhost that are constantly upgrading can unblock these services. If you’re planning on getting a VPN to unblock streaming platforms, it’s important to confirm that it can actually unblock geo-restricted content.
Should you travel outside the country, you can still catch your favourite Australian TV shows by using a VPN. All you have to do is connect to any server in Australia.
Is VPN usage allowed in Australia?
The shortest answer to this question is yes. However, there are other aspects involved that you need to be aware of. 5 years ago, the Australian senate passed a legislation that allowed the government to restrict access to some websites on the internet. The mostly targeted sites by this legislation were those that supported torrenting and piracy.
Internet users still access these sites and download torrents using VPNs. Nevertheless these indispensable tools have not be banned or specifically targeted by any legislations. Their usage is still legal in the country.
Note that even though their usage is legal, using them for copyright infringement and piracy is illegal.
VPNs and Copyright Issues
Copyright infringement is a big deal in most, if not all, countries and in Australia it is not any different. A copyright law passed in 2005 blocked the access of any content that was not offered in Australia. The law prevented users from accessing restricted websites.
It didn’t take long before streaming services started exploiting the Australian market thanks to the country’s position against piracy. Streaming service providers charged Australians more than they did other subscribers outside Australia.
Since this was unfair, the Productivity Commission advocated for an amendment of the Copyright Act. The use of VPNs to access content made unavailable by providers was permitted by law.
Below is a section of the Copyright Law that explains the issue:
“The Copyright Act does not make it illegal to use a VPN to access overseas content. While content providers often have in place international commercial arrangements to protect copyright in different countries or regions, which can result in ‘geo-blocking’, circumventing this is not illegal under the Copyright Act.”
This meant that internet could stream their favourite content using VPNs. Although some countries don’t allow or condone this, in Australia it remains perfectly legal to use VPNs to unblock restricted content.
Is using a VPN to get around geo-blocks a copyright issue?
While using VPN to access restricted content is legal, it can be a illegal if it involves infringing copyright. In Australia, it is an offence to use any property with copyright in any ways reserved to the copyright owner without their permission.
If you use a VPN connection to access, download, and reuse a copy of material from a foreign website without the permission of the owner to download that copy in Australia, it may be regarded as infringement of copyright. The reason for this is simple i.e. downloading the material is essentially making another copy of it which is against the copyright.
When is using a VPN to get around geo-blocks not a copyright issue?
It is not a copyright issue in Australia if you used a VPN to access or download any property that’s not protected by copyright. It is also not an infringement of copyright if you used that property or material in ways not controlled by the owner.
For instance, if you used a VPN to purchase a product from a foreign website (either because it is cheaper or the website is not available in Australia) it won’t be an infringement of copyright. This is because making a purchase doesn’t constitute using rights protected by the copyright.
VPN usage is a widely debated topic and more often than not, it is always about legality. In countries like China and North Korea, VPNs are largely banned. Other countries also have restriction on VPN usage.
In Australia and majority of other countries, VPNs are legal and their usage is allowed. However, issues may still arise when they are used to commit criminal activities on the internet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it legal to use a VPN to unblock streaming platforms such as Netflix and Disney+ in Australia?
Yes, it is perfectly legal.
Can I use a VPN to stream my favourite TV show/movie? Can I use it from abroad without raising any copyright concerns?
This is a still a grey area. Generally it depends on the website or platform you’re streaming from and whether it has copyright in place. If it does, then you’ll be infringing the copyright if you stream the content without permission.
If I use a VPN to legitimately access or purchase copyright material in Australia, will it be a copyright issue?
Using a VPN to legitimately purchase any property with the permission of the copyright owner is no way a copyright issue or infringement of copyright.