The “Sorry” message of a German live-streaming site inaccessible to US-based viewers

You’ve probably never heard of Easy Hide IP, an admittedly obscure software that allows you to surf the internet as if you are in a different physical place than you actually are. You might wonder what, if anything, Easy Hide IP has to do with language. In fact, the answer is quite a lot – at least in our family’s case.

Let me explain.

Thanks to the internet I’ve been able to do pretty well in terms of using German-language media to help grow and maintain my daughters’ — and my own 😉 — German language abilities here in the USA.

Our German-language DVD collection
Over the past eight years, I’ve ordered well over 200 German-language kids’ books from Amazon.de. I’ve also bought more than 200 German-language DVDs from Amazon.de, everything from Happy Feet and Charlie Brown to Der Kleine Eisbär and Hexe Lilli.

I’ve played these DVDs for my kids repeatedly (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Findet Nemo 😉 ) on a region-free DVD player which allows me to circumvent the frustratingly arcane but also extremely stubborn Hollywood inspired DVD region coding scheme.

In defiance of the American free-market model, which ideally ought to deliver consumers limitless choice, DVD region codes lock out and shut down choice.

Indeed, technically speaking — and lucky for me — Amazon.de broke the law by sending me many of the 200+ DVDs in our extensive collection. So much for the wildly celebratory and also inaccurate claim that the internet is essentially exclusively a vehicle for the dissolution of national borders, eh?

Easy Hide IP
Which brings me back to Easy Hide IP.

Easy Hide is a so-called “proxy server” but with a twist: Easy Hide has dedicated servers in various countries around the world through which you can connect to the internet. These servers allow you to, say, log on to the internet in Aurora, Colorado, USA and make it appear to remote servers, for example, on the RTLNow.de television web site in Germany, as if you are actually in Germany.

Why would anyone want to do this – and what does this all have to do with raising multilingual kids?

Basically, I’m tired of ordering DVDs from Amazon.de. I want to move us forward into the world of Video on Demand (VOD). I want to be able to log on to Amazon.de’s video on demand service, LoveFilm.de, and stream video content to us here in the USA. I also want to be able to watch American TV dubbed into German.

Yes, we can already access some video content, quite a lot of it, in German. For instance, my children regularly watch ZDF programs such as Löwenzahn on our computer. However those arcane, frustratingly stubborn, nationalistic culture industry money making models have ended up erecting a wall between us and a lot of online German-language content.

CSI Miami in German
So, for example, if I want to watch CSI Miami, an American TV program, dubbed into German, I cannot do this on RTLNow. RTLNow identifies my IP address as one located in the United States (so much for the myth of the “anonymous” internet, eh?) and I get a message telling me that the show is only accessible to internet users in Germany.

Go ahead and try it: http://rtl-now.rtl.de/csi-miami.php . You’ll be denied — unless, of course, you’re in Germany 😉

I face the same problem when I try to access video on demand through big German-based sites such as maxdome.de or lovefilm.de (Amazon.de’s entry into the VOD market) – unless I use a program such as Easy Hide IP.

I’m willing to bet that not a single culture industry executive has given meaningful thought to the fact that there are hundreds of thousands, likely millions, of people around the world who want to use video on demand to hone their language skills – with probably two-thirds, or more, of these people wanting to go in the other linguistic direction from us, meaning from a non-English language into English.

Hulu.Com for Americans only
No, these culture industry executives, especially those in the USA, home to the largest, most profitable culture industry in the world, are much more concerned about walling off new online American content and preventing the global masses from accessing it — try accessing content from the U.S. web site Hulu.Com from outside of the U.S. and you’ll see what I mean.

I understand that the old culture industry model has been successful economically. I also understand there are added costs, for example, in dubbing an American film such as Finding Nemo. On the other hand, if I’m paying 6,99 Euros per month to subscribe to Amazon.de’s Lovefilm.de VOD service, I don’t understand how me being allowed to access that content and paying to do so undercuts profits for Disney, in the U.S., or in Germany.

I suppose I can see how traffic in the other cultural and linguistic direction – which is clearly the dominant direction, hence, Easy Hide IP’s 18 servers in the U.S. compared to just two in Germany – could potentially undercut profit models, though I confess I do not have the specific knowhow to understand exactly how. To me, it seems much more effective to allow paid international access of cultural content legally than to push people toward illegal file sharing and downloading through various peer-to-peer (P2P) programs such as Bittorrent, etc.

But, hey, what do I know anyway, or so, I’m sure, would be standard culture industry executive’s response – the same culture industry executive who’s likely never considered my own language teaching and learning scenario vis-à-vis American cultural content dubbed into German. After all, I’m just a guy who wants to use online media — paid for online media — to help me and my kids maintain and grow our multilingualism. In other words, to the global culture industry, I’m a nobody.

[P.S. — I have discovered it is not enough to simply project a “false” IP address: You also must have a physical address in Germany linked up to a credit card or a bank account in Germany or you cannot sign up for German VOD services such as LoveFilm.de or Maxdome.de. If anyone has tips on how to get around this issue, please feel free to contact me at cdemonth[AT]du.edu.]

Author Christof Demont-Heinrich

A lifelong interest in language and writing motivated in large part by a desire to learn my father's mother tongue, German, has played a large role in my professional and educational trajectory. I spent my junior year of college studying in Freiburg, Germany. After graduating from Allegheny College with a B.A. in German, I worked as a print journalist for eight years in the Boston area. I moved to Colorado in August of 1996 so that I could attend Colorado State University where I earned an M.A. in English (1998). After a couple years of working as an adjunct faculty member at CSU and the University of Northern Colorado, I began a Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado, Boulder School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the fall of 2000. I completed my dissertation in December of 2005. I started a tenure-track position at the University of Denver in the fall of 2005 where I am now an Associate Professor in the Department of Media, Film & Journalism Studies. My general research interests are in linguistic and cultural dimensions of globalization, transnational and national identity, and the relation between media discourse and hegemony.

More posts by Christof Demont-Heinrich
  • Hanna Torsh

    Hi Christof

    Thanks for this blog- I have been facing exactly the same problem in Australia with an extra hurdle: Amazon.de won’t send films to me at all! I’ve tried to buy a few DVDs and had the response that my region cannot buy these DVDs due to copyright restrictions. A kind friend from Germany sent us a bunch of DVDs which is great – but I share your frustration with wanting VOD. Let’s hope it’s only a matter of time before someone sees that there is an economic opportunity here and the situation becomes truly global in terms of buying multilingual media content.

    And let’s also have sympathy for those who want multimedia content in languages not as globally powerful as German. Last year I tired to buy some books in Burmese for a refugee network and was told by Sydney’s biggest foreign language bookshop that the only Burmese language books they could order were dictionaries. Some languages are of course, more foreign than others.

    Best,
    Hanna

  • khan

    Thanks Prof. Christoff,

    An interesting case of illustrating the myth of interconnected global flow of information and language learning. It is often said that the economic dimension is perhaps the most important aspect of language learning but it is more than that.

    Khan

    • Hi Khan,
      Yes, economic dimensions are often key, and it’s clear that in my case, and in Hanna’s (see my reply to her comment), sadly the money isn’t there in terms of worldwide distribution of films in multiple languages for culture industry players. In this case, once again, profit concerns limit consumer choice rather than increase it.

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