Article on Bypassing Geographic Content Restrictions Using Borrowed IP Addresses

By Eric Goldman

Marketa Trimble (UNLV Law) has posted a full copy of her article, The Future of Cybertravel: Legal Implications of the Evasion of Geolocation. I’ve highlighted this article before, such as in my coverage of the Internet Law Works-in-Progress where I heard her present it.

The paper relates to problems created by efforts to reinstantiate geographic borders on the Internet. In particular, where content owners have sought to restrict distribution of their copyrighted works online to only people located to specified geographies (as measured by the users’ IP addresses), third party service providers in those countries offer to rent out “local” IP addresses to let non-local users bypass the geographic restrictions. I hate the name “cybertravel” to describe this phenomenon (a point I have stressed to Marketa), but the topic is crucial to cyberlaw. It implicates a wide swath of cyberlaw doctrines, including national efforts to restrict objectionable content; Lori Drew-style server misuse based on false registration information; and the efficacy of efforts (like the Protect IP Act) to suppress rogue foreign websites. Marketa does a super job engaging this complex topic, so this is an article worth checking out.

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The abstract:

The internet is valued as a medium that both defies and defeats physical borders. However, cyberspace is now being exposed to attempts by both governments and private entities to impose territorial limits through blocking or permitting access to content by internet users based on their geographical location – a territorial partitioning of the internet. A number of authors have discussed the advantages and disadvantages attached to raising borders in cyberspace; however, as opposed to the earlier literature, this article focuses on an internet activity that is designed to bypass the partitioning of cyberspace and render any partitioning attempts ineffective. The activity – cybertravel – permits users to access content on the internet that is normally not available when they connect to the internet from their geographical location. By utilizing an internet protocol address that does not correspond to their physical location, but to a location from which access to the content is permitted, users may view or use content that is otherwise unavailable to them. Although cybertravel is not novel (some cybertravel tools have been available for a number of years), recently the tools allowing it have proliferated and become sufficiently user-friendly to allow even average internet users to utilize them. Indeed, there is an increasing interest in cybertravel among the general internet public as more and more website operators employ geolocation tools to limit access to content on their websites from certain countries or regions.

This paper analyzes the current legal status of cybertravel and explores how the law may treat cybertravel in the future. The analysis of the current legal framework covers copyright as well as other legal doctrines and the laws of multiple countries, with a special emphasis on U.S. law. The future of the legal status of cybertravel will be strongly affected by three current developments: the desire of countries and many actors on the internet to erect borders on the internet to facilitate compliance with territorially-defined regulation, the need for attribution of acts on the internet to particular actors, and the ongoing transition from the IPv4 to IPv6 protocol that is promising permanently assigned or embedded internet protocol addresses. This paper makes an attempt to identify arguments for making or keeping certain types of cybertravel legal, and suggests legal, technical and business solutions for any cybertravel that may be permitted.

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