Sorry, this content IS available in your country

Posted by in Mike's blog

We had gotten pretty used to seeing “sorry, this content is not available in your country” messages on streaming video websites when we lived in Canada.  Every time we heard about a new American service, our hearts sunk a little bit because we know that countries have very strict borders on the internet because of copyright policies.  Hulu?  Not north of the border.  Fox/NBC/CBS/ABC?  Not a chance.  Life was still good, though.  Netflix launched in Canada in September 2010 with significantly less content than its American counterpart – but hey, we had something 🙂

When we moved to Japan, it got worse.  Instead of being restricted to not-as-good Canadian (but ever-improving) content from the likes of CBC/CTV/Global, we had  Japanese Hulu.  It launched the same month we arrived in Japan, and it was very much reminiscent of the early days of Canadian Netflix:  There wasn’t much there. We did get to watch the amount of content grow over the past few months, but sadly most of the new additions were in either Japanese or Korean and lacking English subtitles, and their kids’ content was almost non-existent.  Still, it was something.

The choice:  Poor service or the threat of jail time

Since most foreigners tend to like watching television and movies in their own language, we are far from the first family to move to Japan and have a longing for media “from home”.  Most people do one of two things to fill this gap:

1.  Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) reroute internet traffic through other places, and circumvent the region-locking that prevents people from outside the countries with media that we all want to access.  Most (all?) VPNs have some fatal flaws, including but not-limited to bandwidth limits, speed loss, ads, or monthly fees.

2. Illegal file sharing with BitTorrent or other protocols that are “all the rage” with internet pirates these days.

Peer-to-peer file sharing has been illegal in Japan since before we arrived, though the pentalies for uploading were much worse than the ones for downloading.  File sharing involves both, hence the sharing.  A few weeks ago the Japanese parliament passed new legislation that criminalizes downloading as well, and the penalties include both fines and jail time.  If that’s not enough, there’s talk of ISP-level surveillance to enforce the new super-strict anti-piracy laws.  This is NOT a good country for piracy, and I certainly don’t want to be the first foreigner that the national police agency will make an example of after this new law goes into effect on October 1.

We had our time with BitTorrent, and we also subscribed to Japanese Hulu.  We wanted to do what we could to obtain the content that we wanted legally, that was before the new law passed.  Now we’re done with BitTorrent, even though October is a few months away.  We found something better.

An easy, legal method for accessing foreign content overseas

It’s called “UnoDNS”.  Domain name servers (DNS) tell your computer where to go on the internet when you type a URL (you know, like http://mikeandmary.net, or http://badgerbadgerbadger.com/) in your address bar and hit “enter”.  UnoDNS runs domain name servers, ones which happen to let users access select foreign content like Netflix, Hulu, and NBC.com (hello Olympics!) in exchange for a small monthly fee of $5-$7.

As soon as I heard about UnoDNS I rushed to their website to try it out for myself, and I did a little bit of research to see whether or not it was too good to be true.  To my astonishment, it worked, it was good, AND it was true.  There was a free trial available at the time, so I performed a couple of clicking actions with my mouse, typed some new DNS addresses into my router settings, updated…and all of a sudden I was hard-pressed to find the ever-so-familiar “sorry, this content is not available in your country” messages that for me had been part of the very fiber of the internet.

I then did a quick cost comparison:  Japanese Hulu costs ¥980, and American Netflix + UnoDNS costs $13 USD.  All 3 currencies change all the time, but in Canadian dollars the financial impact of switching is still less than $1.

As for the legality of the matter, there is no piracy taking place.  No file-sharing, and no stealing of intellectual property.  My understanding of it is:  Streaming media is inaccessible beyond political borders because of copyright laws, which exist in different forms in different jurisdictions.  If some lawyers wanted to revolutionize the system and governments were to sign international treaties, it’s possible that someday we will see content being offered worldwide with one set of rules – but that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.  For now, we’re using UnoDNS to access things beyond our border, but we are still supporting content providers with our money and our willingness to watch their advertisements.  We have an American Netflix subscription now.  At worst we might be violating Netflix’ terms of service based on the physical location of our living room…but we ARE paying customers.  We are as close to violating any of Canada, Japan or the USA’s anti-piracy laws as we are to breaking their fishing regulations.

Our UnoDNS experience so far

Watching movies should require very little effort.  It’s a lazy activity, and we like to relax and watch a good story unfold.  The real measure of UnoDNS’ usefulness is its invisibility.  I don’t want to have to DO anything to watch a movie, I want to press play and make it work.  There has been no change in our crazy Japanese fiber optic internet speeds, we’re still in the red at speedtest.net.  If I notice UnoDNanything going on, it’s BAD BAD BAD.  Fortunately, I don’t.  I haven’t had to touch it since that first day when I spent 60 seconds changing the DNS addresses in my router.  It just…works, like waving a magic wand over all those “content unavailable” errors.  There was, however, a day when I managed to see one of those errors again, so I emailed their tech support.  The problem was fixed before my Gmail notifier had time to refresh.

We have had access to American streaming media websites for about 2 weeks now…and to be honest there is more to watch than either of us have time for.  We had never realized the sheer volume of media available to Americans.  I’m sure if I tried hard enough I could think of a TV show that I cannot watch whenever I want.  If we were in Canada, we might still use the UnoDNS + American Netflix setup we have now – the extra Netflix content is massive, and the ability to supplement it with American network TV is pretty awesome too.  I can’t wait until we get a chance to set this up with our Boxee Box!

I decided to write this post after I explained UnoDNS to friends for the 4th or 5th time, but before I started typing I ended up in touch with someone from the company.  He offered me a fancy “review account” subscription in exchange for…a review at this website (how convenient!?).  UPDATE:  He also sent me a few coupon codes to share, so if you want one post a comment below.

Therefore, here is my review, and advice:  Piracy can be a form of resistance to the oppression from a very rich entertainment industry’s constant quest for more riches, but it’s also both morally and ethically questionable.  Intellectual property, regardless of where it comes from is still the result of people’s hard work, and that should be respected.  In addition, the consequences for piracy are about to become a LOT more severe in both Japan and Canada.

UnoDNS is a great service/convenience/price point/5-stars/functionality blah, blah, blah…but more importantly it’s an opportunity for us to effortlessly consume the media we want to without compromising our integrity and putting ourselves at risk for prosecution.  For that alone, it’s worth it.