Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A dog’s breakfast

Two government stories in one day – and I just wish this one was positive. But it isn’t. Our elected politicians have voted for a complete dog’s breakfast in the form of the Copyright Amendment (New Technology) Bill. It’s been passed and it’s now an Act.

This was the law that supposed to legalise your iPod. Yes, that’s the same iPods as ministers use, as musicians use, and even as copyright lobbyists use. As it stands – or as it stood until now – the law says you are infringing copyright if you copy the CD you own onto the iPod you own. This bill was supposed to change that, but it doesn’t really.

In the relevant part of the Bill (Section 81A) we read:

For the avoidance of doubt, subsection (1) [the bit which legalises iPods] does not apply if the owner of the sound recording is bound by a contract that species the circumstances in which the sound recording may be copied.

And is the owner of the contract bound by a contract like that? Well, the first CD to hand on my desk has on its cover:

All unauthorised copying, hiring, lending,
public performance and broadcasting prohibited.

That’s pretty clear. So by buying the CD I have entered into a contract not to copy it without authorisation. So the rights in the Bill are overridden and irrelevant.

And that’s the most positive part of this law. It appoints librarians as guardians of our rights when DRM (Digital Rights Management, or electronic locks on music and movies – which the Bill calls Technological Protection Measures or TPMs) is abused by companies to prevent us getting access to content we have paid for. Librarians are a fine body of people, but expecting them to act as electronic safe crackers in the public good is novel to say the least.

The Bill also contains a really stupid provision which will force ISPs to take down your web site if anyone with a lawyer claims you are infringing their copyright.

There’s a lot more in this Bill, almost all of which restricts the rights of the ordinary user. The “legalise iPods” thing was meant to be the sop that we got in return, but it’s been neutered so that it’s ineffective.

InternetNZ and others repeatedly told the Select Committee looking at this bill about these problems but they chose not to do anything about it.

I hope the MPs who voted for this are proud of themselves.

posted by colin at 10:22 am  


  1. […] the moment I’d posted I saw Colin Jackson’s post on the matter — A dog’s breakfast: Our elected politicians have voted for a complete dog’s breakfast in the form of the […]

    Pingback by * Soon I might not be a criminal when I use my iPod, in TiKouka — 9 April 2008 @ 3:58 pm

  2. I tried reading the TPM part of the new Act, and I’m unsure whether or not it’s still legal for me to play encrypted DVDs on Linux. Is my general-purpose computer now an illegal TPM circumvention device? I’d be interested to know if you’ve got any light to shed on this question.

    Comment by Tim McKenzie — 10 April 2008 @ 5:04 pm

  3. Tim

    Like I keep saying, I’m not a lawyer and if you want legal advice, you’d better find one. But as I see it, the Act makes illegal supplying TPMs to people who you know are going to use them to break copyright. So, if you give a copy of Linux to a mate who has a stack of DVDs he wants to play on his computer, are you in breach?



    Comment by colin — 10 April 2008 @ 7:25 pm

  4. Thanks for that, Colin. Yes, I can see why you’re reluctant to give a definite answer. But even your non-answer is enlightening in itself.

    I suppose it might be inevitable that laws are fuzzy around the edges, since they’re written in natural languages, but you shouldn’t expect to see harmless everyday activities in the fuzzy part!

    Your answer shows that even an expert in technology, having read the act, still thinks that versions of Linux that can play DVDs aren’t obviously legal.

    Comment by Tim McKenzie — 11 April 2008 @ 8:32 am

  5. Michael Geist reckons it could be worse:

    Comment by Lawrence D'Oliveiro — 11 April 2008 @ 7:08 pm

  6. It could always be worse. Does that excuse it?

    I’ve shown the post above to a lawyer – I won’t name him since I didn’t pay him – and he agrees with my take on the legalizing iPods point.

    So, this bill takes rights away from the average New Zealander and gives nothing in return although claiming it does. If a company did that it would be prosecuted for false advertising.

    It could have been worse – they could have taken even more away, as politicians have in some other countries. Just hold on to that.

    These people expect us to vote for them. But they do what multinationals tell them to. Sheesh!

    Comment by colin — 11 April 2008 @ 10:31 pm

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