Last year the US company Netflix expanded it’s video on demand service into the the United Kingdom. This was great news and is providing much needed competition to the Amazon owned DVD and streaming company Lovefilm.
Unfortunately the UK version of Netflix is nowhere near as good as the the US version. It costs the same amount (if not a little more – £5.99 a month) but has far fewer movies and TV shows available to watch. To be frank it’s not really worth the cash (much like Lovefilm’s streaming service – sorry Lovefilm).
Netflix is a little quirky in that it’s membership operates on a global rather than national scale. And so loopholes exist.
Basically Netflix detects where you are geographically and allows you access to that particular area’s version of the Netflix service.
So if I took my iPad on holiday with me to America I would be able to access the US version of the Netflix service using my normal login and password, even though I joined the service in the UK and pay my Netflix subscription in UK pounds rather than US dollars.
This means that if you found a way to make Netflix think you are using their service in America (even though you were still at home in rainy England, Scotland, Wales, or wherever) then you will be able to access the US version of the service instead of the substandard UK version.
So how can you do this?
Well, the method I’ve come accross is by using a service called Unblock-US. This somehow tricks Netflix into thinking that your computer (or iPad, xBox, PS3, or whatever) is actually in America rather than your grotty spare room in Woverhampton.
The setup is relatively straight forward – you can either change a few settings on your PC/Mac (and so can consume Netflix just from your computer), or you can change some settings on your internet router (so anything connected to the net can use it – like a Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, iPad, iPhone, or one of those internet connected fridges that you bought at the 2004 ideal home exhibition).
Unblock-US is not free – it costs $4.99 a month. And you also still have to pay your Netflix subscription fee on top of that. And if you want to watch Netflix on your Xbox you have to be a member of Xbox Live too (so it all adds up)
I have no idea is this is legal. I suspect that, like region free DVD players, it’s currently a rather grey area – but I’m not basing that on anything other than a hunch.
I’m certainly not advocating you doing it. It’s almost certainly against the terms and conditions of Netflix, so I’m guessing there is a risk of having your membership terminated if you are caught.
But saying that, if you do chose to use Unblock-US I’d argue that you are definitely being more ethically sound than downloading stuff from torrent sites like pirate bay. After all, You aren’t stealing anything. You are paying for the content you are consuming, and you’re paying at a rate that’s both been agreed by the copyright holders and that will result in money finding its way into their hands.
In my mind it’s a bit like sneaking into a better seat in the theatre because you’ve noticed it’s empty. Sure, strictly speaking you may not be allowed to sit there; but you paid your price of admission dammit and it’s not going to make a difference to the rest of the audience.
How about you? Do you feel that using sites like Unblock-us are morally wrong? Let us know in the comments.
(I originally wrote this post for the Midnight Movie Club Podcast, however I’m shifting it over here because that’s just the way I roll people)