Copyright claim: HBO's <em>Game of Thrones</em>.

Don't blame Foxtel for signing an exclusive GoT deal, blame HBO for offering it.

Game of Thrones is returning to Foxtel on April 7. The pay TV giant has confirmed what we were told last year; Season 4 of Game of Thrones is an exclusive Australian deal with HBO, which prevents local competitors such as Quickflix and Apple's iTunes store fast-tracking it. They can keep offering the old episodes but they won't be able to offer any episodes of Season 4 until Foxtel has finished screening the entire series.

HBO forfeits any right to complain about piracy when it refuses to take our money. 

Quickflix tells me that it will definitely be streaming Season 4 once the last episode is broadcast on Foxtel. Apple won't confirm that at this stage and tells me these decisions are "up to the content owners". Some industry players tell me that Apple favours a fast-track or nothing approach, so Apple Australia's reluctance to give me a straight answer could be because it doesn't intend to offer Season 4 at all.

Foxtel's director of television Brian Walsh sees the deal as a "big coup", although it spits in the eye of Australians who don't want to steal Game of Thrones but aren't prepared to pay at least $75 per month for a Foxtel subscription with the Showcase channel. Thankfully Foxtel tells me you can watch the new episodes via a Foxtel Play online subscription, which works out a little cheaper.

Making it harder for people to legitimately watch Game of Thrones seems like a major step backwards in the war on piracy. Foxtel argues that its fast-tracking deals help fight piracy, but it's delusional if it can't see that a deal like this is only going to drive once-paying customers to BitTorrent. They're not all going to turn around and happily sign up for Foxtel. 

It's tempting to heap all the blame on Foxtel for this situation, but I think the real blame lies with HBO – the US cable giant which produces Game of Thrones. If HBO really cared about Australian viewers then it wouldn't offer Foxtel such a deal. If it really cared about fighting piracy it wouldn't offer Foxtel such a deal. Instead HBO would ensure that Game of Thrones was easily available to as many paying customers as possible. Obviously Foxtel has coughed up enough money to cover the lost sales from other Australian outlets, but HBO must realise that more people will turn to piracy in order to watch Season 4 this year.

Unfortunately the situation with Game of Thrones isn't an isolated incident. More HBO programs will likely follow suit, as Foxtel and HBO signed a major content deal last year. Foxtel is also planning to launch its BBC First channel later this year, locking down deals on premium BBC programs which will likely come at the expense of viewers via services like iTunes and Quickflix. 

Doctor Who seems safe from Foxtel's clutches, although the ABC's current deal with the BBC expires in the middle of this year so many programs will be up for grabs. Some BBC programs may well disappear from Australia's free-to-air networks. If new services like Netflix come to Australia this year they'll also be hamstrung by such deals (Netflix doesn't offer Game of Thrones but it does offer other HBO and BBC shows).

Of course beyond the cold, hard cash, cable giant HBO has a vested interest in signing exclusive deals like this. In the US, HBO is fighting the cord-cutting trend as people abandon their cable TV subscription in favour of streaming services. By shoring up the position of foreign pay TV incumbents like Foxtel, HBO is stifling the worldwide cord-cutting trend and holding streaming services at bay for a few more years.

HBO has even been reluctant to offer Game of Thrones via streaming in the US unless you use the HBO Go service, which requires a HBO subscription. Late last year HBO announced that Game of Thrones is coming to Google Play in the US, but not the iTunes store. It doesn't look like the US Google Play store will have a fast-track deal, because right now it says "Season 3 will be available for playback on February 17, 2014". So US streaming viewers get a raw deal as well.

If former US ambassador Jeffrey Bleich really wants us to stop stealing Game of Thrones, perhaps he should have a word to HBO and tell them to stop denying episodes to paying customers. HBO forfeits any right to complain about piracy when it refuses to take our money.

How will you watch Game of Thrones this year?