Skynet undermined by movie sector inaction

It seems we can discriminate between the "unlawful" downloading of music and the "unlawful" downloading of video.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

Inconsistency became clear following the first fine being issued under New Zealand's "three strikes" or "Skynet" copyright laws.

Last week, the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) won a case where a music pirate was ordered to pay damages of NZ$616.57 for downloading several songs.

However, when quizzed afterwards, the NZ Federation Against Copyright Theft (NZFACT), which represents the movie sector, said that it won't be pursuing copyright cases.

It claims the NZ$25 fee that internet service providers (ISPs) can charge them to help cover the cost of administering infringement notices is too high.

Thus, under the Copyright Act, we have yet to see any actions against movie piracy, and while NZFACT retains its current stance, New Zealand is unlikely to. Effectively, this means the Act, as far as movies and TV are concerned, is unenforceable, or at least inoperative.

After breaking the story on the first fine, Chris Keall of the National Business Review said that while music piracy cannot be justified, it is a different matter for movies and television.

His argument centred on the availability of legal content. Services such as Spotify and Pandora are available in New Zealand to deliver music, but for movies and television, they are either limited or non-existent. Such suppliers are effectively protecting their regional monopolies, Keall claimed.

It seems a fair comment, but, as some of his readers noted, copying is still theft of sorts, and something a business publication like the NBR should not condone. That seems fair comment, too.

Even if the three strikes/Skynet law is not being enforced, or may be bad law, it is still the law.

During my early days in journalism, I would often report from the courts. Typically, after hearing the evidence from the crown or prosecution, some bleeding-heart liberal lawyer would in defence justify or excuse the behaviour of the alleged offender.

Thus, here is the mitigation: In New Zealand, if you want to download television or movies, it is hard to behave legally, something that I explained when I became an internet pirate. There are those who think RIANZ may be wasting its time in pursuing its action, spending NZ$250,000 to recoup NZ$616, but I feel the body has set down a test case, which has its implications and should send a clear message to pirates seeking sounds.

However, for those seeking pictures, we have a different message, too: The copyright law here is effectively inoperative. By not pursuing cases, NZFACT has deliberately made this so.

As Paul Brislen of the Telecom Users Association of NZ notes, it does seem strange that NZFACT won't spend NZ$25 to help protect movies that may cost US$100 million to make.

Perhaps NZFACT realises that until effective download services for video are available in New Zealand are available, its position is indefensible.

Editorial standards