Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 15, 2010
The internet is getting less "inter"

Ultra-nationalism, having lead to two world wars, isn't everybody's favorite philosophy. Except, it appears, for media companies. On the one side you hear a lot on how the internet is propelling us into a bright new future, where broadband access allows us to access all sorts of media anywhere and how we like. But once you leave your country of birth, you'll quickly realize that this bright new future has strict national borders, which are totally artificial, and errected by media companies to protect their profits.

My experiences with the PS3 are one example: To use various internet features of the PS3, like downloading games, or participating in PS3 social networks, you need to create a Playstation Network account. But the country you enter when setting up that account is linked to the language option you have. Me, living in Belgium, I would have the choice between Dutch and French when putting Belgium as my country of residence. Bloody hell, I don't want games and media in Dutch or French, I want them in German or English, for games usually English because the German translation isn't always that good. So I sneakily put United Kingdom as my country of residence, so I would have access to English games and media. But when I wanted to buy a game, United Kingdom was fixed unchangeably on the billing address form, and thus my credit card was refused.

Even worse, you can't even change your country in the Playstation Network account. In the end I had to buy a prepaid Playstation Network Card with £20 on it via the internet, fill up my virtual wallet with that, and now I can finally buy UK games on my PS3 in Belgium. I still can't use the Media Server functionality of the PS3, or the BBC iPlayer functionality, because those detect from my IP address that I'm outside the UK and block all media access for me.

On the PC it's the same thing. If you are in the United States, you can use Hulu to view various TV shows on your PC. If you live outside the United States (regardless of whether you have a US passport or not) you are excluded from Hulu, and they even set up protection systems to prevent people using fake IP addresses to pretend they are in the US. And there are lots and lots of other examples: If you want to consume media from your home country in your home country, there are more and more possibilities. If you want, oh horror, to work as an expatriate in another country, or, even worse, watch media from a different country and culture, you're out of luck.

When asked for a reason, the media companies will mutter something about "rights management". But the reason behind it is really that it is more profitable for those countries to be able to control the ways how people in other countries can have access to media content. For example a TV show from the US is usually first shown in the US before being sold to TV networks in other countries, so the network producing the show does not want foreigners to be able to already see the episodes on Hulu, which could diminish the sale value to the other countries TV network. And of course it is more profitable to sell Europeans region-code protected overpriced DVDs of some TV show instead of either letting them watch that show via the internet or letting them buy US DVDs. Or to sell them games on Steam for 50% more than the US price.

I think that the internet being international is a major force for good, for democracy, for cultural exchange, and ultimately for peace. I object to media companies splitting up the internet into national sub-nets for the purpose of profit maximization. And I don't even think the nationalization of media content is good for business, because the very idea of services like Hulu is that bringing people into contact with media content will make them spend money on more of such content later on. If some TV series is never shown in Belgium, and media companies block all my access via the internet to it, why would I be interested in that TV show enough to buy the DVD and the T-shirt? If some game is available by download only, and for some phoney "rights management" reason isn't being sold in Europe, how would I ever be able to give money to the game company? Blocking access to internet content based on where you live is bad!
Amen to that!
Yes yes yes and yes it is a bad growing trend and needs to stop.
The thought of not being able to choose my language based on my country makes me /facepalm. Argh.

It's bad enough the Armory never can remember that I do not want to view in German, but in English...

It's bad, yes. I think most consumers agree to that.

However, it is not uncomplicated. The reason, as always, is money.

You refer very vaguely to "countries" and "media companies" in your post. I appreciate that you understand this full well, but it is important to emphasise that it is not "more profitable" for the United States as a country that you can't watch Hulu. If anything, it is probably less profitable, since customers from all over the world are being driven to other forms of media consumption when we're excluded like this, reducing the originating networks' profits and thus reducing the US tax revenue from those companies...

Of course, it does cost us Europeans quite a bit of tax money a good bit, since several national television networks buy the (private) US networks' shows to televise here. But that's a different story.

The main point, however, concerns your rant about the "media companies". You have taken a very solid stance against piracy in the past. This is not much different.

You accept that rights to intellectual property can be negotiated and sold, and I think you are wise to do so if nothing else from pure self-interest since a good chunk of our prosperity comes from those kinds of intangible rights.

Well, the sad fact is that the plural in "media companies" is true. Different companies (and sometimes state-owned companies) own the rights to the "media" or the rights to distribute it. If ABC tells Hulu to go ahead and show their original programming in "Europe" then they would most likely violate at least two dozen agreements with other companies, companies that have bought exactly those rights. Or put differently: it would be the same as Hulu "pirating" the shows in Europe. For the European rights holders, Hulu showing stuff to you here in Europe would be exactly the same as you nicking it off the torrent.

It's all good to say in response that "yeah, sure, but then they should all sit down and work out a deal that works best for me". But... as I said up top: there's money involved here. The people who paid money for those rights won't give it up without getting something back. And the transaction costs involved rise exponentially with the number of companies involved.

I fully agree that this situation sucks. It should be fixed. In fact, this is even an example of where the EU is trying to help you: the competition authorities are working to force the "media companies" to do straighten this mess out. Although I wouldn't trust the Commission to do anything at a rocket's pace.

Anyway, having said all that, I agree that it sounds like awful design to make it impossible to change countries in PSN.
Make a second account on your PS3 (PS3 profile thing), tell it you're in Belgium. You now have local content at least... Not sure if the Media Server works.

Now make a third, pretend it's in the USA. Now you can access PSN store USA for their much wider range of games.

Now make ANOTHER and pretend it's in Japan. Early game demos for free :)

Lastly make one for Korea. Much of the Japanese content, but some in English. Earlier than the EU store.

Region Locked PS3 does suck. But at least the PSN stores aren't IP locked, just "honesty about where you live" locked.
This is precisely why I do not have a console platform, nor would even consider buying one. Media companies have too much control. At times it seems they have lawmakers by the balls or clitoris. It's time someone fights back, but who, where and how?
Amen also.

Alas, it will only get worse. The current battle seems to be ACTA. With the current US administration coming out strongly for it.

What every happened the EU investigation into region coding? I remember being hopeful at one stage that the practise would be banned as being anti-competitive.

Unfortunately the latest report I can find about it dates from 2001 suggesting that the initiative fizzled out which is a major shame.

European consumers seem to be particularly disadvantaged by region coding both because we have so many countries and languages in close proximity and because there seems to be an explicit assumption that Europeans will happily pay higher prices for everything.
Yea, this sounds like our Xbox 360 situation down in South Africa. Microsoft sell the Xbox here, no problems, but if you ever want to join Xbox Live , you need to become a fake UK or USA citizen, and also have to resort to buying your subscription online in form of vouchers.

It's one thing if a local company actually DID offer this service and had "rights management" linked to it, but there is no local service! So what now?

It's like Amazon selling you the Kindle -locally- and then telling you "sorry no books available for you in your country" ...I can only go FFS...
Regarding Steam and being a European, would it help getting a US friend to gift the games in question, and pay him for the US price instead?
Simon, well, they're not doing exactly that... just saying "You're European so you don't get to browse the web". Must be happy that at least Whispernet works now...

Tobold, at some point you just get used to it. Half of YouTube not available in my country? Well, there's nothing I can do. No RAF or Scroll of Resurrection? It's not like I can do something about it... Eventually, when I get determined enough, I'll just lie to Blizzard that I live in the UK. I don't think they're purposely trying to take my 3x XP from me, but it's terribly frustrating to not be able to level faster just because I live in the wrong country.

Oh, and did I mention the fact that the so-called free-shipping authenticators became no-shipping-at-all? (I know it's not internets-related but I just wanted to QQ.)
I suspect "nationalism" has little to do with the situation Tobold. Rather I think various IP laws are the root cause of situations like this. In order to comply with a countries IP laws, companies have to tailor their access. Also complicating the issue are contracts between companies. Sites, like Hulu, have restrictive contracts with media companies that only allow them to do certain things with content. There has always been distinction between US and European markets when it comes to media content and I suspect Hulu is simply constrained by the old rules media is still living under.
It's been one of my spear-points for quite some time now. Since I also live in Belgium I'm seeing similar problems.

-> Last week Direct2Drive opened their European site. Result? Prices are now in Euros and way more expensive then their US or UK counterpart. Two weeks ago I wanted to buy Supreme commander gold for £5. Bad luck, I couldn't. Or I had to cough up €20 on the European version.

-> TV shows. Why do I have to wait a year until you show it on our TV? Take californication. While I was watching S2 on TV S3 was broadcasted in the US. It gets very, very appealing to just download the episodes from the Internet.

-> They don't even show some shows. Take Battlestar Gallactica. Heralded as the greatest series of the year. Our television only picked it up when S3 started... at 23.30 in the evening!

They're only cutting in their own pockets. I see more and people around me who just download those TV episodes. I wouldn't bother with downloading if I could just watch them on TV when the Americans can watch. But now you have to choice to either download it or wait a year and hope that they'll show it.

Oh yes, then we also have our Belgian 30gb limits. Try watching a few hours of online tv with that...
I'd like to echo what Oscar and Iggep wrote, although I am not a lawyer I believe they are correct.
* Hulu not showing content outside the USA.
* PS3 being country-restricted.
* selling some items (e.g. electronics or computer games) only inside the USA.
* Or the example Jen brought up, of authenticators not being shipped outside the US which is the same actually as the amazon issue.

These are all due to a mix of various reasons, none of which have to do anything with "nationalism".

* IP management/rights,
* Country specific laws and taxes.
* Manufacturer warranty and service issues.
* Country standards, specifications and requirements. For example, a product for the US market uses a different voltage from the EU one.
* Misc issues. For example Amazon will not ship "extremely heavy (for example, multi-volume sets)" outside the US.

I agree that ultimately as an end-user living outside the USA it can be very frustrating to be left "outside the fence". Regardless of the reason for the fence or who erected it.
But I don't agree that "Blocking access to internet content based on where you live is bad". It may be complicated and in some cases unnecessary but I don't think you can generalize that to all cases.
I find it interesting that you cite ultranationalism in this post, Tobold. Are you really against the ability of countries to protect themselves against those who would ignore the inherent "genius" associated with countries where cultural differences are concerned?

I find it odd that the very people who clammor for globalism and diversity are the very ones who work to undermine the concept. The sad truth, is that there are countries who do not have their own peoples best interest in mind as they participate in an ever increasing global economy. Thus, in such an environment, it stands to reason that countries will want to protect their social structures - which can be subjected to the whims of other countries propagandists(media companies) who would offer only either/or choices in an attempt to control their own markets.

We're already being told that the RMT/microtransaction model is to be the savior of western game developers where funding is concerned, even though it is an eastern concept and stands to greatly impact how western games are made and marketed.

Your message is a bit mixed in that regard, and I would love some clarification on what exactly you would propose as fixes as we all journey down this same road together.
Are you really against the ability of countries to protect themselves against those who would ignore the inherent "genius" associated with countries where cultural differences are concerned?

I am against the ability of countries to "protect" their citizens from the "evil influence" of foreign media. Whether that is France trying to protect its citizens against US TV shows, China trying to protect its citizens from the evil influence of democracy, or anything else. I'd even say that that some US citizens would be well advised to watch Al Jazeera sometimes, instead of only Fox News.

Globalisation of cultural offers is an opportunity, not a threat. That doesn't mean an Asia model for a MMORPG for example (hardcore PvP + RMT) is necessary suitable for a western audience. But what works and what doesn't work should be decided by the customers, and not by artificial barriers erected at some new virtual borders on the internet.
(For what it's worth, I wasn't talking about US for the authenticators. I'm in Romania and Blizzard won't ship authenticators from the European store.)
I have the same problems living in Canada. Many services available to my neighbors in the south are not available up here. The blame in this case is our laws and reputation. US companies need to negotiate all kinds of terms to be able to offer products and services in Canada. Our laws are stricter and often require more work for companies. Since our population is only 1/10th the size of the US many companies don't feel the effort is worth the return.

Secondly, Canada seems to have gotten a reputation as a pirate haven so many media companies don't want to stream or offer their products to us less we make copies and distribute it everywhere. The reputation is unearned, the only reason we have it is that we still respect fair-use clauses and the media companies hate the word "fair". ;-)
Australia has always been like that.. Region restrictions on Dvds games. Even though a Aussie judge ruled the region restrictions was anti competitive - we can't view free content available in the US, our dvds get imported years after they get released elsewhere, and they wonder why Australia is a hotbed for the consumption of piracy -I thought the free trade agreement would have opened it up a little more, but one day all these companies will wake up and see that they are restricting their audiences, but not untill the media conglomerates lose some of their power
Another thing on media I can't stand is different regions on DvDs. I quite like watching anime from time to time but a lot of it isn't even available in this region, so even if I could afford it, it would be pointless for me to buy it. I don't understand why some things can't be universal.

I know what you mean though, sometimes I'm glad in the UK because it makes things like iPlayer much simpler..

You're beginning to sound like a pirate! Welcome aboard, you scruvy sea dog.
I'd even say that that some US citizens would be well advised to watch Al Jazeera sometimes, instead of only Fox News.

I certainly hope that you're not operating under the assumption that one media outlet is any more or less inclined to have a certain bias moreso or less than another.

I agree with you on the notion that cultural offerings should be explored and embraced, but you have to realize that at the heart of every government are people who have unique fundamental religious and political ideologies that are formed as a result of their upbringing. Couple this with the greed and corruption associated with the differing financial systems in use worldwide, and you see the same form of protectionism in place that predates the internet.

The internet is an information tool, not some utopian handshake device that is culturally and racially blind.
Because of this I'm unable to use Apple's on-demand movie service where I live. Which is why I don't have an Apple TV, but instead am forced to subscribe to a movie channel which only runs 1+ year old movies.
I certainly hope that you're not operating under the assumption that one media outlet is any more or less inclined to have a certain bias moreso or less than another.

I'm operating under the assumption that ALL media outlets are biased, and that by using many different of them I can puzzle together an unbiased or at least balanced view of the total image.
You are right that money is the issue, Tobold. I think you mischaracterize, though. NBC can’t just decide tomorrow that they are nice guys so “Two and Half Men” will be shown everywhere in the world on the internet, the 360, the PS3, Netflix, etc. Every new platform and country would probably involve new agreements and payments to the talent and many others.

They also have a financial _responsibility_ to their shareholders (and the talent) to exploit the property fully, which means they will probably be partnering with a local company in each country to properly market and distribute the media in question.

You say greed, I say responsibility. Let’s call the whole thing off, right?

Is "France" in some way prohibiting foreign media from being shown inside its borders?

If not, do you know of any such example from anywhere within the EU where a country has blanket laws in place outlawing television from some other country/countries?

For the record, I know of no such restrictions. A few countries still have active censorship, where television, films and (yes) video games are reviewed by a government body to determine whether the nation's populace can stomach the violence (which it usually is, although I suppose sex comes into it in some places as well). To my knowledge, the censors only rarely strike down on anything (in Sweden, we have censorship for cinemas and the last time we had something cut was 15 years ago – from Casino, Martin Scorsese was furious!).

Again, I don't think it's right to talk about "countries" here. All the limitations you are seeing, all the frustration about not being able to rent films from the iTunes store or watch NBC live, all of that is down different companies' commercial decisions. It's like Hugh Jass put it above: someone has simply decided that you're just not worth their while.

The currency restrictions probably have different reasons though. Selling stuff to Euroland customers in Euros sounds like a good way to hedge against currency fluctuations while at the same achieve simplification in the underlying tax structure etc. Of course, it's apparently also a great way of ripping people off.
"Dag buurman!"
"Hi, neighbour!"

It would be beautifull if the world would be seen as just one big global community instead of being concentration camps with the barbed wire being the country borders.
Is "France" in some way prohibiting foreign media from being shown inside its borders?

Yes, although they had to do it indirectly: They have quotas of how much music on the radio and TV shows on TV must be French made, thus "protecting" the French culture.
Now there's something I feel strongly about...

I'm Belgian as well (and I still get annoyed by many companies setting French as the default language for Belgians even though the majority speaks Dutch) and I am an expat in Singapore.

Since moving here I've had issues with this kind of stupid region protection. My European XBox couldn't play games I buy here, because of region protection. When that XBox died, I got a new one here which now can't play some of my old games. So the best one I bought again and the others? Too bad... Ever since moving here I can't play Lotro any more either (and they had a Come back for free week this week too! I got the invite but couldn't log in due to my IP being Asian). There's online TV-Shows that I can't watch because of being in the wrong country. And so on.

Now the XBox stuff is a bad example since I caved and bought local versions in some cases, but those TV shows I'll just never see now. For Lotro there ISN'T even a solution. If you live outside US/Europe you're shit out of luck. Now there's a company that I would happily give my money to play on my old server, and they won't let me... Bastards.

Enforcing quotas of locally produced programming is quite different from prohibiting foreign material.
> Enforcing quotas of locally produced programming is quite different from prohibiting foreign material.

If my memory serves me right Tobold once blogged about certain countries in EU (Germany?) having different laws about allowed content in video games than the US. So for example you could show tits but not gore in Germany but in the US gore was ok but not tits.

I would assume therefore a game showing gore would have to be changed (or not sold at all) in Germany. Tobold will have to correct me as my memory is fuzzy.
Your situation is quite ironic bearing in mind your earlier post questioning whether people should be able to print out the content of your blog in book form without paying you a royalty.

What lies at the root of all of these restrictions is the copyright system and its underlying assumption that creators should be paid more than once for their time and effort they put in creating. And back of that again lies the whole framework of capitalism.

We had a freakish spell of anarchy for the first decade and a half of the web. The corporate powers were caught badly on the back foot and took a long while to recover. It couldn't last though, and business as usual is being restored.

That said, though, the restriction-by-language you describe seems a particularly inept method of control by any standards.
Your situation is quite ironic bearing in mind your earlier post questioning whether people should be able to print out the content of your blog in book form without paying you a royalty.

There you misrepresent what I said. I am not pro-piracy, and I do not demand that everything is free. I'd be quite willing to pay for foreign media-on-demand services.

It is quite the other way around: The media companies blocking legal access to media content from other countries only results in MORE piracy, because if you can't get the latest episode of your favorite TV show legally, you'll be less inhibited to download it by Bittorrent. That is one reason why I said that blocking content based on residence is bad for business.

If my memory serves me right Tobold once blogged about certain countries in EU (Germany?) having different laws about allowed content in video games than the US.

I read the collector's edition of Silent Hunter 5 was recalled from the German market last week by Ubisoft, as they had used some Nazi symbols in it which are in fact illegal in Germany.
As long as they impose restrictions, people will be finding ways around them. Making them, in the process, a criminal.

Until that is changed (define who is the society prepared to label a criminal) the blindness of media companies and their inability to adapt to new markets that transcend locality (no matter how huge) will make criminals out of people that should not, by any stretch of imagination, be called that.

What the content production companies (TV, games, movies, etc) need to develop are different business models to make even more money (which is all good), ones that are not relying solely on what they are doing right now - if they did that, no amounts of what they now claim is hard to deal with (previous contracts, national laws, etc) would be any obstacle to getting what they want.

Gaming industry had gone, in all honesty, farthest: at least there are no more zone restrictions on console games, there are ways to download games legally, not having to wait for them to be mailed by the post office, etc. It has changed quite a lot from, lets arbitrarily say, 5 years ago.

[[[Nitpicking in regards to a previous comment: NBC is not producing Two and a Half Men; it's CBS.]]]
I've caught Fox News lying one too many times (about the Russian/Georgia thing a while back), so I stopped watching it.

Fox News is watched by the loudest and most "Christian", Nationalist Americans, which is about 20% of our population (based on a study asking who is a creationist, since those are the ones that are doing the most damage).

The problem is that they drag down the real Christians, making it seem like 60% of Americans are psychotic. By saying they are with God, and confusing issues for real Christians, because if you're not with the Creationists you're with the crazy scientists who say there is no God, they are increasing their numbers 3x.

That's not even a joke, or very funny.
Just to point out, the BBC iPlayer is blocked outside the UK for a very good reason. If it wasn't, it would seriously degrade the performance and/or raise the costs for those that actually pay for the service and its content, i.e. UK TV license payers.
@Unwize: BBC iPlayer is something I would pay for if I had the chance.
But the hosting costs is not the reason they give, it's licensing rights according to the refusal explanation.
"Rights agreements mean that BBC iPlayer television programmes are only available to users to download or stream (Click to Play) in the UK."(
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