The Australian House of Representatives' Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications recently released a report on IT pricing in Australia (the Report). The Report examines reasons for differences in IT hardware and software product pricing in Australia compared with elsewhere. Implementation of many of the Committee's recommendations in the Report would impact on intellectual property laws in Australia.

According to the Report, higher distribution costs do not justify the price differences between Australia and elsewhere in relation to many IT products (including business software and games), particularly those sourced on the Internet. The Committee in its Report is particularly critical of geo-blocking practices by vendors of IT products. Geo-blocking generally refers to the implementation of online systems that inhibit consumers in one territory from accessing particular goods or services in another.

The Committee in its Report makes ten recommendations, including that the Australian Government:

  1. Amends the Copyright Act's section 10(1) anti-circumvention provisions to clarify and secure Australian consumers' rights to circumvent technological protection measures (TPMs) that control geographic market separation;
  2. Considers implementing a right of re-sale for digitally-distributed content; and
  3. Considers a ban on geo-blocking, depending on the outcome of other recommendations in the Report.

The recommendations in the Report are not binding on the Australian Government, and it is unclear at this stage whether any of the recommendations will be implemented.

To what extent do the findings in the Report impact New Zealand?

The Report is significant in that it highlights issues that are common to Australia and New Zealand - both countries are generally subject to geo-blocking and IT product pricing not experienced elsewhere. However, differences between the New Zealand and Australian marketplaces could reduce any weight given to the Report in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Government has signalled that there is unlikely to be any substantive change to New Zealand's copyright laws until the outcome of negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (which the Australian Government is also negotiating on).

Although Internet users are able to manually circumvent geo-blocking, at least one New Zealand Internet service provider has begun offering a service with optional geo-blocking circumvention. Whether offering such a service is lawful remains untested in New Zealand. New Zealand's Copyright Act prohibits the offering of services that are intended to be used to circumvent TPMs. However, as in Australia, the definition of TPMs expressly excludes systems that control access to works for non-infringing purposes. Further considerations could include contractual rights, parallel importation rights, and relevant overseas laws.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how the Australian Government responds to the Report.