NZ copyright law needs more work

Let's face it, we are all copycats and offenders when it comes to breaking copyright law, which is why New Zealand's revamped legislation has garnered so much controversy.

Let's face it, we are all copycats and offenders when it comes to breaking copyright law, which is why New Zealand's revamped legislation has garnered so much controversy.

Growing up in 70's Britain, I remember having a black Hitachi cassette recorder and when Top of the Pops came on, I would place it by the TV and record my favourite music.

A few years later, a more sophisticated Sanyo "music centre" allowed me to tape the Top 40 charts directly and the sound quality was so much better.

Come the 1980's, I have a Ferguson VCR and in time built up a decent collection of movies, "videoed" from the TV, along with Spitting Image, my favourite TV program of the time.

And over Christmas, while visiting friends, I quite enjoyed watching 2012 that one of their mates had downloaded over the internet, though I slept right through Avatar.

Like the campaign slogans say, we wouldn't steal something physical from anyone, but in effect we are still stealing when it comes to downloading movies, music or other copyrighted material from unofficial sources.

Now, the capitalist in me respects the property rights of the creative. The sound law and order man in me supports tough action against criminals.

But the practicalities of tackling such an issue, which might initially sound simple, means we are opening a very complex can of worms.

Over a year ago, the former Labour government in New Zealand produced Section 92A of the Copyright Act which could have led people to have their internet accounts closed on the say so of a music or movie company. And such a ban could have been forever and without challenge.

Protests, such as internet blackouts followed, and the incoming National government put the legislation on hold last year while it devised its own alternative.

Now, a new, revamped Bill, which includes "three strikes" for such abusers, has been introduced into parliament, with offenders facing a fine of up to NZ$15,000 on their third offence.

In response to earlier criticisms, a free tribunal service will address the concerns of those who feel they have been unjustly accused. Such a system will be patrolled by ISPs, which will have responsibility for keeping records of the sites their users visit and download.

However, such record keeping will be costly, especially for the smaller ISPs whose activities tend to be very lean. No wonder iiNet of Australia fought for its right not to police. Fortunately, it won it last month.

Despite the iiNet win, the issue has gained traction in a wide arena, being discussed at the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) talks, one of which will be held in New Zealand in April. These talks have even reportedly come up with a draft treaty which requires ISPs to show how they are taking action against abusers to avoid being sued by film studios.

Like I say, this could well be costly for such lean and mean operations we see in New Zealand.

Labour's ICT spokesperson Clare Curren came up with her own suggestion — a levy on internet use with proceeds used to satisfy the demands of the copyright holders.

Such a licence fee or levy is used overseas and I remember suggestions for similar taxes on blank audio cassette or video tapes decades ago. However, such taxes might be expensive to collect and distribute, and would penalise innocent non-users.

All things considered, I think New Zealand's current proposals seem to be a fair compromise from earlier legislation and perhaps the best we can expect. Even earlier campaigners against the old Section 92A seem satisfied, though there is room for refinement.

There will be, and already has been, further debate, with people pointing out pitfalls, such as whether people can encrypt their downloads and hide it from others, offenders can move to another ISP or whether termination means the axing of all internet services or just those services with which the user was breaching the law.

I expect loophole after loophole will be uncovered as the New Zealand Bill wends its way through parliamentary procedures. Like with many other government acts, I guess we will see the introduction of some bad law, as the government rushes to do something, rather than the right thing. But the government has listened to concerns that have been previously raised and, hopefully, parliament scrutiny will lead to some improvement. It had better.


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