Is it legal to bypass geo-blocks?

First of all, both VPN and proxy services are legal tools that anyone can use. Neither German copyright law nor other laws prohibit the use of such services to bypass sites like netflix. Illegal actions such as offering copyrighted films or music without permission are of course prohibited, regardless of the tools used.

Legal situation not clear, but no risk known

But can VPN services be used to bypass geo-blocks for the use of legal services? Unfortunately, there is no one hundred percent clear answer to this question. Legal experts dispute whether a geo-block is an „effective technical measure“ to protect a copyrighted work. This would mean that it must not be circumvented. Some people reject such an opinion and consider the circumvention of geo-barriers to be legal. Others refer to the low legal requirements for an „effective technical measure“ and regard this as fulfilled in the case of geo-barriers.

In their opinion, anyone who circumvents a geo-barrier can infringe copyrights. Another question is whether users violate a provider’s terms and conditions when using the services in non-covered countries. Where such clauses exist, a service could, in extreme cases, terminate the account for this reason. However, this requires effective acceptance of the terms and conditions, for example when creating a user account.

  • The mere use of a service without registration is normally not subject to terms of use. So far, however, such questions have been theoretical discussions.
  • There are no known court decisions or disputes, there is currently no risk for users in this respect. Instead, some streaming providers choose a different path.
  • They try to detect the use of VPN and proxy services and use technical means to prevent their content from being accessed via them.

Free EU internal market also on the Internet

The European Commission has set itself the goal of establishing a free internal market on the Internet as well and to take stronger action against geo-barriers with new laws. The first building block is a regulation on the „portability“ of online content, which will come into force in spring 2018. Users who are temporarily abroad in the EU must then be allowed to access their online content in the same way as they are used to. In practical terms, this means that films, series and music offered by Netflix, Sky, Spotify or Apple Music in Germany must also be available during the holiday in Italy. This obligation only applies to paid services such as subscription services, not to services financed by advertising or fees such as public media libraries.

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