First NZ three-strikes copyright case to be heard

The New Zealand Copyright Tribunal is set to hear the first case brought before it under the controversial three-strikes law.

The first case brought to the New Zealand Copyright Tribunal under the controversial three-strikes law is set to be heard in Christchurch in February.

The law, which passed New Zealand parliament in 2011 , sees copyright owners send evidence of alleged infringement to internet service providers (ISPs), which investigate and issue notices to the account holder. On the receipt of the third infringement notice, the copyright holder can then pursue the account holder through the Copyright Tribunal for damages of between NZ$275 and NZ$15,000.

The law came into force in September 2011, but, until this year, there had been no cases brought before the tribunal. The Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) has previously dropped cases before they reached the tribunal.

Despite dropping previous cases, the RIANZ is now set to be the first organisation to use the Copyright Tribunal. The first hearing, involving an unnamed party, is set down for February in Christchurch, the New Zealand Ministry of Justice confirmed to ZDNet today.

According to the ministry, there are currently 11 cases before the tribunal, but the other 10 will be decided "on the paperwork," meaning that there will be no need for a hearing. All cases have been brought forward by RIANZ.

In a recent study of the three-strikes law, Monash University academic Rebecca Giblin said that it is likely to be ineffective in achieving its aim to deter infringement. By charging NZ$25 per infringement notice, if just 2 percent of the population of New Zealand (or 180,000) were issued with infringement notices, it would add up to NZ$234 million annually for copyright holders to send notices. Given that users are not normally assigned a permanent IP address, it would make it difficult for the rights holders to track individual users' infringement.

"Even if the same account is detected infringing multiple times, the existence of on-notice periods (during which any notices will not contribute towards a further 'strike') makes it even more unlikely that three valid strikes will accrue," she said.

"In these circumstances, it seems unlikely that a significant enough number of notices will be issued to provide an effective deterrent. The cost of issuing notices and the likely low effect they will have means that the scheme is unlikely to provide any more effective protection than the previous law."

Users may potentially use other accounts or other methods besides peer-to-peer file sharing to get copyright-infringing material, Giblin said. She added that graduated-response laws, such as the New Zealand three-strikes law, should only exist in a form that encourages access to the content in a reasonably priced and timely fashion.