Why Do Streaming Sites Block VPNs?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jerry asked:

Crunchyroll in late March, 2018 apparently decided to black-hole the entire network - that is, the entire ASN - of cloud service provider DigitalOcean, where I run a personal VPN server through which I had been streaming anime from Crunchyroll. Can't even visit the landing page for Crunchyroll with the VPN up, which seems downright silly. What is your understanding of the business motivators for Crunchyroll's denial of access to some US-based networks? Do their content licensors require them to do it? Isn't it just a game of whack-a-mole?

When you license a show for broadcast, streaming, or any other means of getting it out there, it's a basic part of any license agreement that, in order to be entrusted with this valuable content, you're going to have to promise to take "all reasonable steps" to make sure that it's kept safe. Safe from ripping, and safe from unauthorized usage, including being seen from areas of the world to which you do not have the license.

For a streaming service provider, it's important to have a reputation among licensors that your service is pretty secure. As with any sort of security, of course that means playing "whack-a-mole" with new ways of getting around said security. You can put up new protections, and people will eventually find ways around them. That's just a given when it comes to cyber security.

But just because something CAN be done doesn't mean you have to make it easy. Anyone can break into a house if they really want to, but that doesn't mean you don't lock your doors when you leave. Doing so won't prevent anyone who's really intent on doing whatever it is you're trying to stop, but it'll stop 99% of people who don't care enough to spend hours figuring out how.

When it comes to streaming sites, people use VPNs to fake being in another country so that they can watch something that isn't being made available to where they really are. That's actually one of the main reasons why people use VPNs these days. (Heck, I literally subscribed to my VPN so I could watch current seasons of The Great British Bake-Off.) Knowing this to be the case, nearly every major streaming provider takes steps to block service when you try and stream their content through a VPN.

If your goal is to try and uphold the legal agreement you signed with your valued business partners, and block access to content that you promised to block from countries you don't have the rights to service, putting these protections in place is a no-brainer. You get a list of IP addresses that are known VPN nodes, you have your developers write a quick script that looks for one of those IP addresses and redirects them to a "sorry, no VPNs allowed" page, and you keep the list updated. It's not that much additional work, and it's doing right by the agreement and the licensor. It's your obligation. In fact, not doing so could even get you in trouble down the road.

Is it a little frustrating for people using public VPNs for other uses? Sure. But there's really not that many of them, and if they are computer savvy enough to have a VPN, they likely know how to turn it off and access the site directly.

Thank you for reading Answerman!

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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