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.]