Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about a very bad piece of law that the government and the music business have foisted on us all, and about the fact that the government appears now to have cold feet about it. I’m referring to Section 92A of the Copyright Act, inserted by the recent copyright amendment, and it says that ISPs have to cut people off the Internet if a music company accuses them of copyright infringement. There’s no trial, no proof, and no accountability on the record companies to get it right. This provision was inserted into the Bill by the government after the Select Committee had told it to do the opposite and then passed by a large majority in the House.
The Minister of ICT announced yesterday that this provision will be put ‘on hold’ for four months. (It can be put on hold because it requires enabling regulation; effectively Cabinet can decide when and if it comes into force.) He’s looking for submissions on this. Don’t be shy – write to your MP, badger the parties who want your vote, and support InternetNZ which will be lobbying hard for MPs to do the Right Thing.
Q: So what are the problems with the Copyright Act?
A: I’m particularly worked up about that act. You may remember that, few months ago, the government pushed through, without any consultation, some harsh new copyright restrictions. I say without consultation, although its clear that someone was consulted because the minister, Judith Tizard, thanked the music industry lobbyists in the house when she pushed it through. Go figure.
Q: What’s so bad about the changes?
A: Lots of things, many bad things, but the one I’m focusing on here is the part of the Act which requires Internet service providers – ISPs like Xtra and Paradise – to disconnect people’s Internet if they are accused of downloading copyright material. That’s called Section 92A of the amended Copyright Act. This bizarre piece of law was pushed through, against advice from a wide range of industry bodies, by the same minister who later stood in front of a couple of hundred people and said that Internet was a basic human right. Now, if it’s a human right, you can’t deprive people of it. We don’t prevent people having access to food or clean water even if they are murderers, let alone copyright infringers.
All the ICT lobby groups have a done a press release on this. It’s the first time I’ve seen more than two of them put their names on a press release at once, and here we have five!
Q: What are they saying?
A: Their release fairly foams at the mouth, but you could summarise it in two words: unjust and unworkable. The DomPost picked this and ran a piece on Monday, which strangely hasn’t made it onto their website – and that repeats the Minister’s view that Internet’s a human right. Update: that article is now online. Thanks, guys.
Q: And what’s the music industry’s view of this?
A: They think that they should just be able to accuse someone and get their Internet cut off. That’s clear from their comments in the DomPost article. Campbell Smith, the CE of the New Zealand Recording Industry Association, was quoted as saying that it would be completely unacceptable for the law to require copyright holders so sue infringers to prove their guilt. He wants people cut off form the Internet as soon as one of the big music or movie companies accuses them.
Even if we thought that was acceptable – and I don’t for one minute – overseas, this industry has a record of suing the wrong person. They have sued dead people, people without computers, and people in the same house but who had nothing to do with it. Several high profile costs cases against them are going through legal process.
Q: Isn’t there any accountability on the music companies?
A: No, not that’s within the reach of the ordinary Internet user. The Copyright Act, when it was a bill, contained language that made the record companies liable if they couldn’t prove their case. That got taken out behind closed doors at the last minute and the whole thing passed in a hurry. And there’s the head of the music lobby in New Zealand in the papers, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to have to prove their charges. Yet they want people’s Internet cut off on that basis. And the government has just rolled over on this, even though they think it’s a basic human right.
That change in the Act requires regulation to bring it in, and that hasn’t happened yet. But regulation could be introduced any day by this Cabinet or a later one, which deprives New Zealanders of a human right on the say so of some commercial interests who reject any notion of accountability.
Q: So this is a balance between people who want to get paid for their work and people who want freedom on the Internet
A: I am definitely not advocating the deliberate infringement of copyright. Artists should get paid for their work – if they want to be, that is. What I am against is the injustice of a few companies with a history of accusing the wrong people, getting to accuse Internet users and getting their access pulled.
Now, Section92A needs a regulation to make it active. That hasn’t happened yet and its clear that Cabinet has some disquiet about the whole thing or it would have happened by now. David Cunliffe, the Minister of IT, said the other night that there would be a four month “review period” before the regulation happens. In other words, we have four months to get organized and get this pernicious piece of legislation taken off the statute books, If we don’t do that, this government or another can turn it on, pretty much by fiat.
Minister: Internet is a basic human right
The DomPost article on cutting off people’s Internet for copyright infringement which quotes the head of the music lobby as saying that it would be totally unacceptable for them to have to prove their case in court.