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Is It Legal to Watch Netflix Using a VPN?

Netflix has become extremely popular in the last decade. Many of us watch Netflix programs on a regular basis. Currently there’re more than 75 million people subscribed to Netflix’s service. However, recently Netflix announced that they would ban VPN usage for watching their programs, which has stirred a lot of discussions and many people are quite upset or even angry about this move.

Why does Netflix disallow VPN? VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are technical ways to allow people add more security to their online activities. At the same time, a VPN can be used to disguise a user’s location. For example, if Joe is watching Netflix online from Paris, Netflix will know Joe is in France because his IP address is showing a France IP. As a result, Netflix will show Joe its French programs. However, if Joe is a VPN user and he first connects to his VPN provider’s VPN server located in San Francisco and then starts watching Netflix from Paris, Netflix might be fooled to think Joe is a U.S. watcher and then shows Joe its U.S. programs.

Actually many Netflix users around the world have been using VPN to watch Netflix programs. Until recently they have been OK doing this. Also, it’s been quite easy these days to sign up for a VPN service. A VPN provider usually has servers in many world-wide locations, for example, it’s quite easy to find a cheap VPN for Austria and a VPN for China. It's also has become quite common for VPN users to diguise their locations. For example, "VPN into China" is quite possible for users with a VPN account. Besides VPN, people have been using other techniques such as online proxy and smart DNS to bypass geo-targeting implemented by Netflix.

But this has changed. After announcing ban on VPN, Netflix started cracking down on VPN services. Recently a lot of world-wide Netflix subscribers found their VPN service no longer working for watching Netflix. They would see error messages such as “You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy. Please turn off any of these services and try again.”

While many people are angry about this situation. It might be worth finding out whether it is legal to watch Netflix using a VPN service.

If you take a look at Netflix’s Terms of Use, you will find that it’s pretty clear that Netflix doesn’t want you to use things like VPN to bypass their geo-targeting:

You may view a movie or TV show through the Netflix service primarily within the country in which you have established your account and only in geographic locations where we offer our service and have licensed such movie or TV show. The content that may be available to watch will vary by geographic location. Netflix will use technologies to verify your geographic location.

If you consult a customer support representative from Netflix, asking about VPN usages, you might get answers like this:

VPN services are very useful, but because of the terms of use of the companies we buy our content from, we have to keep VPNs against our terms of use as well. However I have good news! Netflix is a worldwide company now as of about 3 months ago, and you have the abilitly to access Netflix almost anywhere without a VPN. The lists will vary a bit, but we are working hard to make one big global list. We allow you access to Netflix worldwide for the price of the account in your home country. No new rates will apply, simply log in and enjoy the different countries content lists.

Therefore, using VPN to watch Netflix is against Netflix’s Terms of Use. But whether watching Netflix using a VPN is legal or not is hard to determine. You might find people talking about copyright infringement etc. when discussing this topic, but it’s hard to find a firm answer for this question. While Netflix keeps blocking VPN usage, this question might be subjected to more and more debate. Let’s wait and see that people will say about this!

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