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Push to end technology price gouge

James Hutchinson (via AFR) | July 30, 2013
Australians should be allowed to buy movies, music and computers over the internet at the same cheap prices as people overseas, a federal government inquiry urged on Monday.

Push to end technology price gouge
Technology companies including Apple, Microsoft and Adobe argued vehemently against legislative change in hearings before a parliamentary committee. Photo: Reuters

Australians should be allowed to buy movies, music and computers over the internet at the same cheap prices as people overseas, a federal government inquiry urged on Monday.

The long-awaited inquiry into technology pricing found goods and services are, on average, 50 per cent more expensive in Australia than other countries, prompting the committee to ­suggest changes to the law to reduce local prices.

The recommendations, if adopted, could spur significant competition for technology prices, giving people more scope to import cheaper products from overseas and get access to online services blocked to people in Australia.

The bipartisan committee said the federal government should clarify laws around whether consumers can legally circumvent online restrictions such as geoblocks, with the potential to ban use of the restrictions altogether.

Geoblocking technology is widely used by technology companies and websites to show consumers and businesses different pricing or content depending on their country of origin.

Services like Netflix in the United States and the ABC in Australia block online access to content based on the user's location.

Circumventing these geoblocks not currently illegal in Australia, but it is considered a grey area under copyright law because it also often contravenes the terms and conditions placed on users of websites.

But in the strongest language by MPs against use of the restrictions, the committee recommended the government educate the public on how to circumvent geoblocks where legal, while voiding any website contracts that use geographic restrictions.

"What we would hope to see is [that] by consumers exercising their choice to go and buy goods at cheaper prices, you'll see [the effects] reverberate back into the domestic supply chain," said Matt Levey, director of campaigns at consumer advocacy group Choice. "Digital price discrimination is unsustainable. We're moving into a global marketplace for many of these goods and it's really a question of how much of the industry wants to throw sandbags against that tide."

GOVERNMENT WILL CONSIDER THE RECOMMENDATIONS
Technology companies including Apple, Microsoft and Adobe argued vehemently against legislative change in hearings before the committee.

However, the companies and industry body, the Australian Information Industry Association, refused to comment at the time of publication.

Other recommendations from the committee included removing restrictions on parallel imports for technology products and giving the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission greater powers to investigate intellectual property complaints.

Committee chairman and Labor MP Nick Champion said the recommendations were the strongest possible mechanisms to encourage lower technology prices in the local market.

 

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