The subject of virtual private networks (VPNs) has today become such a hot topic that leading technology publications have entire sections of their websites devoted to their use. One of the most pressing concerns about VPNs relate to their legality. While the legality of their use in general has been firmly established, a much murkier area in the law are the legal repercussions of using them to bypass copyright restrictions.
In this article, we will discuss the various ways in which people use VPNs to circumvent copyright restrictions and what could happen to them if they do.
What Exactly Is a VPN?
A VPN is a service that provides Internet users with both anonymity and privacy while browsing the Internet. It does this by masking your IP address, which identifies both your device and your location. Many VPN services also encrypt the data that passes through them to give users even more privacy.
There are many legitimate reasons for using a VPN. They include:
- To prevent hackers from accessing a user’s data when they browse the web.
- To prevent websites and advertising companies from tracking a user’s Internet activity.
- To access certain websites in countries where the government has blocked their access.
But not all VPN use is so legitimate. According to a study by GlobalWebIndex, more than 50% of VPN users do so to access better entertainment content.
How People Use VPNs To Bypass Copyright Restrictions
There are two ways people use VPNs to bypass copyright restrictions. These include:
Using VPNs To Maintain Anonymity When Stealing Content
Some people use VPNs to hide the theft of copyrighted materials. They do this through a variety of means, such as by torrenting copyrighted material as a way of distributing it to others or by downloading or streaming copyrighted materials from illegal sites.
Using VPNs to Bypass Location Restrictions
Many content providers attempt to restrict their copyrighted content to those who live in a particular region. For example, a content creator might want to restrict certain shows intended only for U.S. audiences from viewing by people from other parts of the world. Some people, though, bypass these restrictions by using a VPN’s ability to make it seem as if a user resides in a different region from where they actually reside.
The Legality of Using VPNs to Bypass Copyright Restrictions
When it comes to using VPNs to hide the theft of copyrighted material, the law is clear: this use is unlawful. Using a VPN to do this will not only not protect someone from prosecution, but it may not even protect them from being discovered. Though a number of VPN services do actively attempt to prevent the compromise of user identities.
What is not so clear at the moment are the legal repercussions of bypassing geographical content restrictions. According to The Journal of the Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property, there is currently no legislation or case law that specifically outlaws the bypassing of geographical content restrictions for copyright reasons. At the same time, though, they state that doing this can be a violation of a content provider’s Terms of Service (TOS), which can have serious repercussions for users. For example, Netflix explicitly forbids the bypassing of geographical restrictions in their TOS, and they say that doing this can result in the termination or restriction of their service.
It is important to also note that future legislation may make the bypassing of geographical restrictions for copyright reasons illegal. Courts could also one day interpret current legislation as forbidding the practice.