Friday, March 1, 2024

MLB and VPNs

TV Answer Man Phillip Swann recently answered a question about VPNs and Major League Baseball. I understand why he answered the question. Someone asked, and he gave an honest answer. No problem.

What I didn't like about it was that he couched the headline in a way that seemed to advocate using a VPN.

If you haven't realized it, I'm against using VPNs for the purpose of circumventing geo-location restrictions. I don't like those restrictions, but I also feel the content owner can set whatever restrictions it wants. I think content owners have the right to be total jackasses. I have the right to call them total jackasses and not do business with them.

The title of TV Answer Man's post was "A VPN Could Be Your Ticket to Blackout-Free Baseball" and covered the question asked of him:

... we live in Iowa and we want to watch the Cardinals but the games are blacked out on MLB TV even though we live hours away from the Cardinals stadium. Can you explain how a VPN works and whether it could eliminate the blackouts?

The answer was straightforward and provided information that many might not realize:

The Virtual Private Network, or VPN, can beat the blackouts, but there are a number of questions regarding its legality. Let me try here to put those questions to bed now before the regular season begins with the Dodgers and Padres in Korea on March 20-21.

Saying "there are a number of questions regarding its legality" is absolutely on point. But, he also pointed out that MLB has not been actively pursuing people that violate the blackout policy by using a VPN:

For the first time, MLB acknowledged it had never tried to sue or prosecute anyone for VPN use and the league didn't even have a position on whether it opposes the use of VPNs. Since that interview, there is no indication that the league's position has changed nor prosecuted or sued someone who has used a VPN while watching MLB TV.

This runs counter to the public perception that MLB is trying to crack down on VPN use and is prepared to use the courts when necessary. This is not to suggest that MLB is saying you should use a VPN. (The pay TV services that pay handsomely to carry regional sports channels wouldn't appreciate that. If everyone used a VPN for MLB TV, they wouldn't need to subscribe to the pay TV services.) But the league certainly isn't telling you not to use a VPN.

In the past when addressing this topic, I've noted there's also an ethical question here. By using a VPN, you are clearly attempting to "circumvent" a blackout restriction, which is against the MLB TV rules. But the league's current neutral stance on VPN use would seem to soften that concern.

Don't misunderstand me; I do not like blackouts. If there were no blackouts, I would have subscribed to MLB TV for many years now. But, they have their rules in place. Although I don't agree with the rules, it's there right, and I respect the rights of others, even when they abuse those rights.

My Streaming Life doesn't involve as much baseball as I would like, because of the blackouts. I won't violate ethics juse because I don't like what they are doing. But they are missing my subscription money, and my eyes on their advertisers. And the subscription money and advertising eyes of those who don't subscribe because of blackouts.

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