Leaked details of secret trade negotiations between 12 countries, including Australia and New Zealand, have revealed that the Australian government has backed the US in its attempt to enforce stricter geo-blocking and other anti-piracy measures in a series of amendments that could result in Australians paying more for certain products.
Video games, more specifically our ability to circumvent region coding, would most likely be affected by these potential changes.
The leaked document, obtained by Wikileaks, contains the negotiating positions of all 12 countries involved in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, including Australia; an agreement that many Intellectual property experts have criticised as anti-consumer.
In the document Australia is listed among those in support of restricting the sale of devices that enable Australians to circumvent geo-blocking. According to experts, the agreement has the potential to be 'problematic'.
"It's pretty restrictive," said Kimberlee Weatherall, an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, specialising in Intellectual Property.
"The US and to some extent Australia are pushing for more restrictions against the circumvention of devices and software — that would include video games."
One end result for consumers would most likely be the continuation of increased prices for gamers locally here in Australia, and another looks like an increase in liability for companies like YouTube and iiNet, who could be held responsible for the piracy of its users.
"That's potentially problematic," said Weatherall.
Considering the previous position of the Australian Federal Government, and the work of the IT pricing inquiry, Australia's position in these negotiations is extremely strange.
Two recommendations in the IT Pricing Report specifically mentioned 'banning' geo-blocking as a last resort.
Recommendation 9: The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider enacting a ban on geo-blocking as an option of last resort, should persistent market failure exist in spite of the changes to the Competition and Consumer Act and the Copyright Act recommended in this report.
Recommendation 10: That the Australian Government investigate the feasibility of amending the Competition and Consumer Act so that contracts or terms of service which seek to enforce geo-blocking are considered void.
Very strange indeed.
"The fact that Australia is supporting this suggests that some people are not paying attention to the IT Pricing inquiry," suggested Kim Weatherall.
But the good news is some countries are attempting to push back on some of the specifics of this agreement. Australian is not among them, which is strange considering how shabbily consumers have been treated by multinational companies with regards to geo-blocking and price gouging.
Very disappointing considering the progress seen with the IT Pricing inquiry.