Harward law professer Lawrence Lessig is one of the most recognized copyright experts in the world. When giving public presentations, he regularly includes short video clips to make his point. Obviously, these video quotations are covered by the fair-use-clause in US copyright. Residing in Germany, however, YoutTube does not allow me watching the video of one of Lessig’s talks embedded below.  I stumbled upon the link to the video as a Slovenian colleague, Domen Bajde, recommends it to his students in a course on global business environments. When clicking on the link, YouTube just tells me that

“Dieses Video enthält Content von UMG. Es ist in deinem Land nicht verfügbar.” (translation: “This video contains content from UMG. It is not available in your country.”)

Previously on this blog, I have described how such problems arise as a consequence of (re-)negotiations between platform providers such as Google (the owner of YouTube) and rights holders, which demand a share from the platform’s ad revenues and hold content created and shared by users hostage (see “Private Negotation of Public Goods: Collateral Damage(s)“). The funny thing is how this erects new and increasingly ridiculous barriers in the seemingly global online world that are still tied to national borders. As an Austrian living in Germany, for example, I can only watch every second video shared by my Austrian friends via Facebook. Obviously, I am not the only one annoyed by this phenomenon. Paul Mutant, a Hungarian artist currently living in Brighton, U.K., converted his frustration into the great painting featured below.

"This painting is not available in your country"

Online video sharing platforms are not the only cases of increasingly absurd inconveniences due to artificial and mostly incomprehensible borders erected in the realm of transnational business. DVD region codes are another example: while pirated or downloaded copies of a movie will work anywhere, legally purchased DVDs only work on players with a corresponding region code. The arbitrariness of this system was evidenced by the creators of the region code system themselves when they reduced the number of different regions to only three for the DVD-successor Blue-Ray Disc.

Taken together, YouTube’s selective blocking of videos in certain areas and region codes for video discs demonstrate at least two things: first, both show the power of technological measures in regulating access to digital goods, which may effectively overrule rights granted to individuals by law. Second, both are examples for continued or retroactively reinstated importance of national borders in the realm of seemingly global flows of communication and services. Google and others are still governing across – and not beyond – borders, after all.


PS: Since I am not able to watch the Lessig-video embedded above – can anyone not living in Germany comment on what it is actually about? Thanks!