"This content is not available in your location": These, or similar error messages might appear when you attempt to view your local news or favorite website while on vacation, or a broadcast that isn't intended for your region. In this article, we'll let you know the probable reasons why content isn't available, and how to legally circumvent these restrictions.
Why Are Websites Blocked?
All-encompassing Internet censorship, such as in China, where the government blocks unwanted content for political reasons, is unheard of in democratic and non-authoritarian countries. Still, there are some major reasons why websites or videos might not be available in a certain location.
Blocked for Legal Violation
In the US and Germany, the Internet is freely accessible. Still, Internet service providers (ISPs), need to block access to websites and content that violates the law. Among the most common legal grounds for blocking access to a website are intellectual property or copyright violations.
Gutenberg.org ⇱, a platform that offers free e-books, was part of a long legal battle with the S. Fischer publishing house ⇱ from February 2018 until May 2022, at the beginning of which it was made unavailable to Internet users in Germany. The publishing house successfully argued that some of the platform's e-books broke German copyright law. Since then, Gutenberg has blocked all German IP addresses.
To prosecute copyright violations, the Clearingstelle Urheberrecht im Internet ⇱ (Clearing House for Internet Copyright) was formed in Berlin in 2021. Its founders included ISPs, as well as representatives of copyright holders, such as the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Book Market's Stock Association), and the Bundesverband Musikindustrie (Federal Music Industry Association).
The Clearingstelle Urheberrecht im Internet notifies German authorities of copyright violations.
Other examples of websites blocked in Germany and elsewhere owing to copyright violations include kinox.to, canna.to, serien.sx, and s.to. Visitors to these sites can stream or download films and music for free. Blocking access to such sites occurs when the provider identifies a forbidden IP address. Instead of loading the desired website, users will see a notice either from their ISP or another authority, such as the CUII in Germany, informing them why access to the site is blocked.
Are you vacationing abroad and interested in catching up on local news from back home? You might not be able to watch the regularly scheduled broadcast owing to the new IP address you're using. The same happens if you attempt to watch the latest episode of your favorite series on Netflix while on a business trip out of the country.
Geoblocking occurs whenever platforms or websites withhold access to content based on the user's physical location. The reasons for this are missing broadcast rights and/or licenses. For example, Netflix Germany does not always have the same rights to series as Netflix US (and vice versa). For local news or sporting events, the country you're in likely won't have the same transmission rights.
Public television (here, the Italian RAI) blocks access to content for users who attempting to view it without Italian IP addresses.
Whenever someone outside the jurisdiction where the rights or licenses are active attempts to access them, the server will automatically identify the foreign IP address and prevent it from displaying or playing back normally.
Workplace or Institutional Blocks
Even though the pages aren't illegal, more and more employers, as well as schools, universities, and other institutions are preventing users from being able to access certain websites. This ensures that students or employees only use the Internet for educational or work-related activities. Another benefit is that by limiting access to websites, the risk of infectious malware or viruses being downloaded through malicious links is reduced.
Across the European Union, governments only block content that endangers minors, belongs to or advocates support for terrorist organizations, or violates copyrights. Abroad, things look a bit different.
If you take a trip to China, the Russian Federation, Turkey, or Iran, you'll quickly notice that many of your favorite news sites and social networks are unavailable. Authoritarian and dictatorial regimes heavily censor the Internet to control what sort of information their citizens are exposed to, and prevent them from organizing any opposition.
With our Internet Censorship Check for China, the Russian Federation, and Turkey, you can see which websites are blocked where.
How Do Internet Blocks Work?
Even though the end result is most often the same, access to a website can be blocked on different levels:
- IP address blocks – Think of an IP address like your Internet ID. The numbers and letters it's comprised of are unique for each device and reveal their location. With geoblocking, a server recognizes the website you intend to visit, sees your request as coming from a "prohibited" region, and returns an error message, instead of the necessary data package. This kind of block can easily be overcome with a VPN, proxy, or Tor browser, but more on those in the following section.
- DNS blocks – If you input www.experte.com into your browser's address bar, your computer or device will send a request to your provider's DNS server. This is like an address book, in which each website has its own URL. Your device can only establish a connection to the desired website when the URL is converted. Should the URL belong to a blocked website, the sequence is interrupted and the necessary data is not returned. These kinds of blocks are also easy to circumvent (see the section "Change Your DNS Server").
- Router blocks– The operators of public or institutional networks can directly block IPs by adjusting the router's settings.
- Locally blocked websites – If your employer blocks access to popular social media networks, this has most locally been done locally. For these, either the website is blocked directly in the browser or firewall, or the hosts file is changed. These text files can be found at C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc. By opening these as an administrator and adding 127.0.0.1 to the end of a line, followed by the URL of a particular website, the latter will no longer be accessible.
In this case, Instagram is now blocked for all users of this PC. Those without admin privileges won't be able to do anything to counteract such blocks.
How Can I Get Around Internet Blocks?
Regardless of whether a website is unavailable owing to a DNS block, IP address-based geoblocking, or local settings, there's almost always a way to access it. Some are free but require a bit more effort. Others cost a few dollars per month, however, are far more user-friendly.
The following methods are what we recommend:
To bypass geoblocking, your best bet is surfing with a virtual private network (VPN). Imagine these as a secure tunnel in which your Internet traffic travels from your computer to a server, before heading on to your destination. Since your traffic receives the IP address of the VPN server you've connected to, the website's operator thinks that it comes from a particular country or region, and permits the connection. For this reason, VPNs also help to circumvent censorship in places like China or Iran.
You get what you pay for, and good VPNs are almost always premium. However, these provide access to thousands of servers in all corners of the globe. In our reviews of VPNs, you'll find out which service best matches your needs. Our current Top 3 are NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark.
A proxy server routes your traffic through another server, concealing your IP address. While this might sound similar to a VPN (it is), with a proxy, the communication is not encrypted. In addition, you'll need to manually configure proxies:
- 1.In Windows 11, open Settings, go to Network & internet, and click on Proxy.
- 2.Click on the Setup button under the Manual proxy setup heading.
- 3.Under Use a proxy server, set the toggle to On and input the proxy IP from the server you'd like to connect to in the Proxy IP Address field, as well as the accompanying port. In our proxy list, you'll find an up-to-date selection of free proxies and their ratings.
- 4.For Port input 4145. This is the standard port for the TCP protocol, which is used to transfer data on the Internet.
Using a public proxy server, you can access websites that would otherwise be blocked.
Many proxy services are free. However, this comes at a cost, as the connection is often slower than that made via VPN, since most providers either limit the transfer rate and/or have to deal with overloaded servers.
Change Your DNS Server
By default, you'll surf the Web using your ISP's DNS server. When they block a website, the URL you input won't be converted into the right IP address. However, not all DNS servers block the same sites. For that reason, using a different DNS server can often be enough to gain access to otherwise unavailable content. To do this:
- Open Network Settings in Windows by going to Start > Settings > Network & internet > Advanced settings
- Scroll to Additional network adapter options, click on it, and right-click on your connection, selecting Properties at the bottom.
- Double-click on Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4).
- Look for the option Use the following DNS server addresses and click on the toggle. Below, you can try inputting Google's public DNS server's address, which is 8.8.8.s. Other addresses are offered against a fee by so-called Smart DNS providers, such as Unlocator ⇱.
Tor (The Onion Router) is an anonymizing network that is operated by volunteers with servers around the world. Basically, it works like a proxy, however, the queries are routed through multiple servers, enhancing their security. Whichever website you visit will only see the IP address of the last server your request passed through. This boosts the degree of security and anonymity considerably, however, you should be ready for a noticeable decrease in speed.
The service is completely free to use, however, there's no guarantee that whatever blocked content you're trying to access will be available. Since Tor network uses specific protocols, its connections are fairly easy to recognize. Accordingly, many websites block Tor users outright in order to prevent illegal activities which occur owing to the anonymity it provides.
Is It Legal to Unblock Websites?
Above, we've detailed a few methods you can use to unblock websites and access otherwise unavailable content. Even though this is almost always possible from a technical point of view, the legal situation is a bit more nuanced. As such, it isn't possible to give a simple 'yes' or 'no' in answer to the question of whether unblocking websites is legal or not. Context is important, specifically, what it is that you intend to do on the website in question:
- Downloading copyrighted films or programs from blocked platforms, without paying their creators, is definitely illegal. According to a ruling of the European Court of Justice, ⇱ streaming is also illegal.
- Downloading copyright-free files, such as content that is in the public domain, is legal.
- If using a VPN to access the foreign catalog of a streaming provider, you'll be at odds with the provider's terms and conditions. The worst you can expect from this would be a suspension or cancellation of your account, however, we aren't aware of any cases where this has actually happened.
- Accessing blocked websites at work is not a criminal offense. However, your employer does have the right to limit what activities you engage in during working hours, and this includes private surfing on your company computer. If caught, you could be reprimanded, or worse.
- Tourists or foreigners rarely have anything to worry about when circumventing Internet censorship in an authoritarian country. However, there's no guarantee of this, and how risky it is (or isn't) depends on the current political climate and the relations between your country and that of the one you're visiting.
Websites can be blocked for a number of reasons. These include copyright or intellectual property violations, hosting of prohibited content, censorship, a lack of broadcast or transmission rights, or the internal decisions of an institution or business. However, these blocks are often of an equally varied character: Sometimes, all IP addresses from a particular country are blocked, or, if illegal content is involved, the culprit is most likely a DNS block.
Most blocks can be overcome either with the aid of a VPN or a proxy server. Both methods disguise your traffic so that the website you intend to visit sees your request as though it came from another country. When dealing with a DNS block, the website might be accessible by changing your DNS server to that of another provider.
Whichever method you use to access an otherwise blocked website, you should take care to remain on the right side of the law. Streaming copyrighted videos from a blocked site can, if you're unlucky, lead to an expensive and nasty legal surprise. If you're itching to access social media at work and your boss notices, you could be called on the carpet or even fired. Overcoming geoblocking to access otherwise restricted content is less tricky a proposition, as there's no legal recourse a provider or site operator can take if they suspect you of doing this. All the same, you might want to think about why the service is limited and whether it actually makes sense to do this.