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On Netflix, iTunes and Iceland’s cultural isolation

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Here’s an interesting situation: an Icelandic telecommunications company (Tal) has started offering a new premium service that basically consists of assigning the customer a foreign IP number, which gives him or her access to streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu.

Technically this is illegal. You see, most of these services, like iTunes, Amazon, and presumably Netflix and Hulu, haven’t made copyright agreements with Iceland. I have no idea why this is, though I have read that, in iTunes’ case, they don’t consider the Icelandic market big or important enough to warrant the time and effort.

This new move by Tal has caused a little bit of an outrage around here. Of those who have spoken, the loudest are those who work for 365 Media, a media conglomerate who stands to lose the most if Icelanders stop paying for access to their cable channels to watch many of the same shows being offered via Netflix and Hulu. At a price that is about ten times lower than the Icelandic service, I might add. Sure, you get the added benefit of Icelandic subtitles, but I hardly know an Icelander today who can’t watch an English-language show without subtitles, or – in a pinch – with English subtitles.

That particular issue notwithstanding, this does highlight something else, which is that we Icelanders are damn sick and tired of not being able to access our entertainment like the rest of the free world through sites like the ones listed above. Yes, there are hacks, at least for Netflix, but – again – we are then doing something illegal. Plus, they’re a little complicated, at least for the not-so tech-savvy. So for a lot of people, it comes down to one solution: torrent sites.

Now, it may be that the proprietors of iTunes, Amazon et al consider the Icelandic market so insignificant that it’s not ever worth making these sorts of agreements with us. That may be where the knife is stuck in the cow, as the Icelanders say [idiom, basically meaning “the obstacle”]. However, I have strong suspicions that there are a lot of Icelandic stakeholders who do their utmost to keep these sorts of services out of Iceland, so they can continue to profit from our cultural and commercial isolation. [Similar to the situation with Icelandic eBooks, which is another topic altogether.]

Surely this is a doomed endeavour. The Internet is not bound by borders, as we all know. Icelanders will access their entertainment, one way or another. It seems insane to try to hold back the tide of change and progress in this way. Instead, these folks should be using their time and energy in trying to find creative solutions to these issues, to move with the times, instead of trying to keep everyone stuck in the past.

[On a related note, just yesterday I was updating my iPhone and was asked for a cell phone number so that I could set up cloud storage. It turns out that Iceland isn’t even included in the list of countries offered, so my cellphone number isn’t valid and hence I can’t set up a cloud account. And for that, I’m afraid, there are no hacks. I just wish it would stop asking me to set up that stupid account every time I plug it in to charge it.]

[And on a second related note: Apple doesn’t supply iPhones directly to Iceland. Icelandic Apple vendors have to buy them through secondary channels, with the accompanying higher costs. In fact, iPhones weren’t even offered for sale in Iceland until a couple of years ago. #irestmycase]

[Image nicked here.]

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  • Katharine Kroeber October 28, 2013, 12:08 pm

    what the… I’ll get back to you when my mind stops boggling.

    PS. So “that’s where the knife is stuck in the cow” is the Icelandic equivalent of “well, there’s your problem!”? Good to know…

  • Michael October 28, 2013, 1:07 pm

    Its a fact, nothing but a fact, and I share your suspicions to the fullest bearing in mind -as I was told – our Icelandic economy is based on the exploitation of natural resources and (!) plutocratic monopolist middlemen everywhere ! I don’t think the market is too small (in capitalism a market is a market) but its that we’re being reduced to a banana republic without bananas. And don’t ask me about the saga behind amazon.de (Germany) and Iceland. Sorry my rage.

  • Michael October 28, 2013, 1:23 pm

    Forgot a ps.: To get iTunes in Iceland one would have to change the IP or – for example – have to buy an iTune gift card from EPLAKORT.IS. Of course a card valued USD 15 would then cost 20-25 USD.

  • Katharine Kroeber October 28, 2013, 1:23 pm

    I don’t get Apple’s moves at all, but I share Michael’s suspicions. A market *is* a market, and usually companies are happy to get themselves anywhere and everywhere.

  • Klaus Jensen October 28, 2013, 8:14 pm

    Are you sure it is ILLEGAL? It might violate the Netflix/Amazon/iTunes terms of service (which are private contracts, not laws), but is it really against an Icelandic law?

  • hildigunnur October 30, 2013, 10:53 am

    Actually in the iTunes case it’s not about the small market but because the Icelandic scene didn’t want them to be allowed to sell the local music. That means a big chunk of the sales would be off and they don’t want that. The copyright bureau was ready to work with them but not the bigger music publishers.

    I don’t know how it is with the Netflix thing.

  • alda October 30, 2013, 2:28 pm

    Thank you Hildigunnur for that info. I didn’t know that.

  • komentator November 2, 2013, 10:18 am

    Oh, give me a break. There are many free world (what does it even mean?) countries without Netflix access (let’s say Germany or France). As I live in Poland I know it’s annoying, e.g. waiting for official Spotify access was a little bit of nightmare, but at the same time reading this post reminds of the worst of polish complexess which make us to treat such things as lack of netflix access as an insult to our national pride or result of some massive conspiracy.
    BTW. I am sure that you can set your iCloud account in Iceland.