HBO has been emailing Aussies to tell them they will be cut off from HBO Now, which many use to access Game of Thrones in high-definition. Image: SMH.com.au
Australians who use geo-blocking circumvention tools to sneak into the US-only HBO Now video streaming service, to watch popular TV shows such as Game of Thrones, are being told they will soon be cut off.
Multiple messages seen by Fairfax Media show that HBO has been emailing Australians and other people in areas outside of the US saying they will be cut off on April 21.
“It has come to our attention that you may have signed up for and viewed video content on the HBO NOW streaming service from outside of the authorised service area (the United States, including D.C. and certain US territories),” the email says.
The email goes on to say that if HBO hasn’t heard back by Tuesday next week it will deactivate accounts without further notice.
Those who have received the email so far say they either used Getflix, Unlock.us or Unotellyto access HBO Now – services which allow people to bypass geographic restrictions by making it appear as though they are in the US (or elsewhere) even if they are in Australia. Most also used their Australian credit cards so sign up.
Users of the broadband forum Whirlpool have been discussing the issue, with one saying they will go back to illicitly downloading if they can’t pay HBO.
Fairfax asked Foxtel, which has the exclusive rights to air season 5 of Game of Thrones in Australia first, if it had asked HBO to take action against HBO Now users outside the US.
“HBO license content on a territory by territory basis,” a Foxtel spokesman said. “This action has been taken by them to preserve that model. It is not specific to Australia. They do however regularly communicate with Foxtel about their plans.”
Those in Australia who were using HBO Now were paying HBO $US14.99 per month plus the cost of using geo-blocking circumvention tools like Getflix or Unblock.us, which cost about $5 per month, bringing the total to about $20. It allowed them access to high-definition Game of Thrones.
Meanwhile, Foxtel Play is charging Australians $30 per month to access Game of Thrones, but is only offering it in standard-definition.
Those who want to watch Game of Thrones in high-definition need to sign up to Foxtel’s expensive cable subscription service — at least $660 (plus $200 equipment and installation) on a 12-month plan if they want HD HBO content.
News of HBO cutting off Aussies comes as leaked emails showed Sony Pictures had complained to Netflix over its unwillingness to stop Australians and others sneaking into the streaming giant’s US service.
It also comes as the Australian federal government considers a new anti-piracy regime that would allow rights holders to request a block on websites they believe are infringing their copyright. Some fear the laws could impact the currently legal use of virtual private networks (VPNs) and other geo-blocking circumvention services, which are a commonly-used tool to access content blocked in Australia.
But Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is championing the bill, said it was not the intention of the bill that circumvention tools would be blocked.
Mr Turnbull has previously remarked that the Australian Copyright Act does not make it illegal to use such tools 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,” he states on his website.