Region Restrictions in a World with No Borders

Written by Herra Honkonen on Thursday, January 29th, 2009

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Well, no surprise there that it was too good to last. If you wonder where your favourite music vanished from Spotify, they are implementing region restrictions. So basically in the future you can listen only to music that has been licensed for your country.

This illustrates beautifully one of the current problems with media distribution and the industry model. Whereas the industry, labels, production companies etc. are living in a word divided into regions, the consumer increasingly is not. More and more heavy consumers of music, movies etc. are relying on different kinds of digital distribution methods. Thanks to the stubbornness of the industry this distribution used to be peer-to-peer -networks for a long time. But what does it mean in practice?

Well, having to rely on p2p systems has led into a generation of consumers, who’ve got used to a digital distribution system with very little limits. A network is global and everything is available everywhere. If an episode of your favourite TV program is aired somewhere in the world, in the next day it will be downloadable on the net – regardless of the country. If a band releases a new album, it’s out everywhere at the same time, not to mention the movies. In order to be viable, this is how the commercial digital distribution systems should work. Compared to using even the simplest p2p-system the region based distribution methods feel artificially constrained and clumsy.

A lot of music, TV and movie consumers would like to pay for the content, but currently it’s simply impossible, amongst other things because of region restrictions and region specific distribution rights. This is the crap which is keeping for example Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 video stores down in Europe – the mess with the distribution rights in different countries. The oldest and the most archaic example of this is DVD region coding. This is a thing that costs the publishers money in a very concrete way. A year or so ago I watched a couple of episodes of an excellent animation series called Invader Zim. Waving a figurative wad of bills in my hand I went online to try and order the series on dvd, but nope, no region 2 version available. So, that’s my money out of the pockets of the series creators and no chance for me to support them financially. Nope, unlike many of my friends I don’t have a region free DVD-player, and I’m not going to risk breaking my PS3 which I use to watch movies.

The stock answer from the industry and lobbyists to this artificial scarcity is that people should just learn to live with the fact that they can’t get the content they want to: “you can’t always get what you want”. But well… you do and it’s very simple. It’s just a matter of firing up your p2p client of choice and downloading what you want. Immediately, without any hassle with cumbersome DRM and unskippable propaganda. (The latter has kept me from buying the said box set, borrowed it from a friend instead.) Of course you can wish very hard that people are so moral and complacent that hey won’t do it because you tell them not to, but oh do come on. No matter how many single moms and schoolkids you bully with lawsuits, that’s not going to happen.

If the industry doesn’t want to sell content to people, content that’s freely available illegally, they don’t have the right to say word one to complain about piracy. They can spout their propaganda about how downloading is stealing until they are blue in the face and thrash around with their lawsuits, but in the end they are going to just sink deeper and deeper into irrelevancy. It shouldn’t be so hard to understand: you can’t tell people what they should want, you should sell stuff the consumers want to buy.

So, dear music, movie and TV-industry – take a close look at services like Spotify. Do your utmost to get rid of artificial region based restrictions and aim to have your services working like this in 5-10 years minimum. If you want to have region specific distribution rights, limit them to retail and physical copies. Otherwise you have lost the game, pure and simple.

It remains to be seen how long will I be personally subscribing to Spotify. I’m not going to cancel the subscription right away, but I’ll be keeping an eye on how much of my favourite music is dropped from the catalogue and are there any plans of bringing it back. Now, if ever, you should support services like this.

2 Responses to “Region Restrictions in a World with No Borders”

  1. A mio parere, si fanno errori. Cerchiamo di discutere di questo. Scrivere a me in PM.

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