Mar 212011

The Internet is ubiquitous, but content is not. Some media are not available on every Internet connection. This should be unfathomable in the 21st century. Instead, we are subjected to media companies who are convinced that a 20th century business model is what will keep them viable.

For example, Burke and Hare is a dark comedy starring Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) and Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) that was released in the UK last year. I really want to see this movie; however, I live in the United States. I can find nothing about the movie ever being released here because the story and history behind Burke and Hare are distinctly British. It’s already been released on DVD in the UK, but of course the DVD is in PAL format and it’s encoded for region 2.

Yes, if I had lots of disposable income, I could always purchase a region-free DVD player that also converts from PAL to NTSC, which legally reside in a grey area because they bypass region locking, then import the disc from England. My only other option to watch the movie is to download it via BitTorrent or other means. So, why am I not allowed to purchase a downloadable version of the movie just because I live in the United States?

Another example is the BBC, which has traditionally been on the forefront of using the Internet as a means of content distribution. I remember being amazed back in the 1990s when I could stream any of the BBC radio stations live over my 28.8Kbps modem.

So, why in the 21st century can I not stream any of the BBC’s TV channels? Or Channel 4? Certainly, I should be able to pay the TV license fee that UK citizens have to pay so that I can get access to the same content on-line in real time that they can get on their TVs. After all, they have the iPlayer to allow for viewing their content for the past seven days. So, the Beeb has a live-streaming option for all of their channels available to non-UK citizens who are willing to pay the TV license fee, right? Unfortunately, no.

This has anything to do with technology. The BBC has proven that they know how to use Internet technology before most media outlets do. I’m guessing that my inability to stream the BBC has more to do with exclusive agreements with BBC America, the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service, and other networks that license BBC content.

(I’m fully aware that the iPlayer is available on the iPad in the U.S. However, most people don’t have or want an iPad just to watch BBC content. To put the iPlayer on the iPad but not on a PC or Mac using a client with some kind of authentication for paying customers is mind-boggling.)

And can anyone explain to me why I can view a video clip on Comedy Central’s U.S. web site, but I’m blocked when I try to view the exact same clip from their Canadian web site – and vice versa for Canadians? I think that warrants a new definition under “insanity”.

Does no one else see the insanity of restricting content based on geographical boundaries in the age of the Internet?

The content providers like to hide behind the shield of “copyright agreements”. We all know it comes down to money. But does it make sense to restrict content to a global audience who could then become a paying customer if the content is made available to them?

Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame once said that they were bothered by the piracy of their award-winning series, but at the same time piracy allowed the show to be loved by people who would otherwise never have been able to watch it because the show isn’t available in their country. That is the crux of the problem.

Why should someone from the Ukraine be denied the ability to purchase or rent a South Park episode online? Why should someone from Uzbekistan be forbidden from buying a digital copy of Inception from Amazon? Why should I be denied the ability to buy Burke and Hare as a download from Amazon UK? Why should anyone be denied the ability to purchase, rent, or stream any content just because of an artificial boundary when that same person can use that same Internet connection to illegally download that content though BitTorrent for free?

If the purpose of a business is to make money, how does it make any sense to deny people in our global community the ability to spend their money solely on the basis of a geopolitical location? Most credit cards are good anywhere around the world; and there are global payment options like PayPal.

I’m not naïve to the reality that there are people out there who will always want something for nothing. Piracy will never go away, no matter what kind of draconian restrictions or DRM is applied to media. But denying potential customers the ability to purchase your products because of their geographic location seems to be exactly the opposite of what a responsible business should be doing.