As of April 2014 digital media giant Netflix was operating in a total of 41 countries around the world with a subscriber base of more than 50 million, but users of the service are still subject to some programming restrictions that leave many wondering if it is possible to enjoy global Netflix with a VPN.
It is indeed possible to access country-specific Netflix programming by using a VPN. Even though this method had been characterized by media executives as digital theft, most consumers regard cross-border viewing as completely ethical because the subscriber is already paying for Netflix access. Claiming that one can only use the version of Netflix available in their home country doesn’t make too much sense. What if a subscriber happens to be traveling or working in another country? Shouldn’t they be able to take their subscription with them the same way they pack clothes or other personal belongings?
Content shortage for countries outside the US
Netflix is an American-based company, founded in Scotts Valley, California in 1997. Originally designed as a rent-by-mail DVD service, Netflix soon outgrew its humble beginnings and embraced streaming digital content as a business model. In the beginning this service was only available to US customers but demand soon encouraged Netflix to spread into other countries such as Canada and Australia.
The problem is that the Netflix offerings in other countries have always been scarce compared to the programming available in the United States. A July 2015 article in Fortune magazine illustrates the problem.
For example, in Canada Netflix is very popular even though subscribers do not have access to many of the programs offered in the United States such as Burn Notice or Grey’s Anatomy. While some programs such as Downton Abbey do not appear in the US Netflix lineup but are accessible in Canada, the shows available to Canadian subscribers are few by comparison. This has prompted some Canadian subscribers to turn to free proxy services or websites that claim to safely change a user’s IP address to mask their country of origin.
Unfortunately, free proxies often come with a host of security flaws that can leave their users vulnerable to data theft.
Many subscribers have learned that global Netflix with a VPN is the most secure way to open up the US Netflix catalogue for viewing in almost every part of the world. They simply purchase VPN service from a provider that offers a US-based server, connect to that server, and then enjoy the full lineup of shows. Some have referred to this as “digital fence-hopping.”
While digital fence-hopping might not be something media executives like it is not piracy like some have claimed. In order to access Netflix in any country a person must have a valid subscription. They have paid to use the service. Individuals that use a VPN to access the US menu take the position that they have paid for the right to do so and should not be limited by geographic restrictions.
And who is to say that many of these people are not US residents to begin with that like the option of using Netflix when they travel abroad? A US-based UPS pilot that we spoke with explained to us how a VPN is a necessary part of his Netflix subscription. The pilot, who asked to remain anonymous, states:
“I regularly fly overseas, primarily to Europe, and use a VPN to access my Netflix subscription during a layover. Without the VPN my programming options in Germany or France can be very limited. I pay for a US subscription so it makes no sense to me that I am only allowed to use that subscription when I am at home which is only about half of the year.”
It also works the other way around, too. A Canadian subscriber that is visiting the US will find that many of their favorite programs are not available when they use Netflix from a US-based IP address.
What does Netflix think?
According to the Fortune magazine article, executives at Netflix have indicated they are aware of individuals accessing global Netflix with a VPN but the practice does not create a large amount of concern. And why should it? Netflix knows that it is unrealistic to expect subscribers to maintain more than one active subscription so they can use the service in multiple countries.
Anne Marie Squeo, a company spokesperson for Netflix, even went so far as to say that Netflix hopes to address the use of VPNs by addressing the core problem instead of trying to punish those that digital fence-jump. “We hope to address [using a VPN for global Netflix] by offering our content globally to audiences at the same time,” Squeo says.
Clearly, VPN use is changing the way companies view the rights of digital subscribers.
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