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Browser plugin breaks geo-blocks

The borders are falling. At least the virtual barriers that prevent users from all over the world from watching videos on US streaming sites. With the free browser plug-in Hola for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, an Israeli software company has developed a program that bypasses geo-blocks. This has sparked another legal discussion.

  1. The plug-in Hola allows users from countries outside the USA to watch series, documentaries and different sports on the websites of major US television stations such as CBS, BBC and FOX. This is usually not the case.
  2. This is because the site operators use the IP address to check the origin of the computer accessing the contents of the site. All users outside the United States are locked out of the video material.

For fans of series and documentaries, such geo-blocks are annoying. Because on the pages of the television stations you can watch current series such as “New Girl” or “CSI”, which were broadcasted only a few days before for the first time on TV. From the broadcasters’ point of view, this blockade is quite understandable. TV companies like CBS buy the licenses only for a certain broadcasting area. In order to fulfil the contract, the videos are only accessible to viewers from their own country.

Users enter a legal grey area

But Hola does not only open access to the sites of the big US broadcasters. The geo-blocks of the film platforms in the USA are also levered out by the plugin. Users from Germany can register with TV streaming providers such as Hulu, Netflix and Pandora. One hurdle remains, however, despite the plugin: the film platforms usually only accept customers with an address in the USA or a US credit card. This makes it difficult for German users to log on to the video portals despite the circumvented geo-block.

So far it has only been possible with a VPN client to view the content of US providers on their home browsers. With the VPN service providers, most of which charge a fee, users can obtain an IP address from the USA and thus gain access to the video material on the portals.

However, it is questionable whether it is legal to trick the geo-blocks. The legal situation has not yet been clarified, writes IT lawyer Chritian Solmecke, as there are no relevant court rulings yet.

“In the case of a copyright infringement, an expensive warning or criminal prosecution according to § 108b UrhG is the main option”.

This is particularly the case if the country code is regarded as copy protection.

Developers make a political statement

However, the developers do not only venture into a legal grey area, they also make a political statement with their program. Besides watching video clips from the USA, it is also possible to bypass the state firewalls in some countries. On their page the Hola developers write: “Yes – that means that you can finally see Facebook in China and Twitter in Iran!

For the developers at Hola, however, the geo-blocker is just a by-product. According to the company, its goal is to speed up the Internet. They want to speed up the HTTP network protocol with their own caching and compression methods. A lot of money has gone into this development. The Californian investor DFJ has invested 18 million dollars in the company. Although the plugin is free, the developers also want to earn money. With premium services that will be offered in the future.

Published in News