I’ve been involved in the campaign against Section 92A of the Copyright Act since before the election. On at least two occasions I’ve heard from journalists that someone they wouldn’t name was trying to plant stories linking anti-S92A activists with, of all things, child pornography. We gritted our teeth and ignored it.
Last weekend this all broke wide open. Video rental shops in the larger chains tried to get their customers to sign a petition demanding that S92A be retained. In one of the United Video shops around Hamilton, at least, video shop staff were telling customers that this petition was all about stopping child pornography. They were told to say that, they said, by their manager.
Of course, everyone now denies telling the store staff to say this. The head of NZFACT, an organisation that fights the infringement of video copyrights, said that the petition had nothing to with child pornography and that he had sent out an email to correct this. United Video’s general manager Lindsay Hall said on Radio New Zealand on Monday “at no stage has anyone in head office told to them to use the child porn angle”.
Let’s just get this clear. There is NO child porn angle. I don’t think for one moment that the copyright holders are claiming copyright in child pornography. That’s what S92A is about – whether copyright holders have the right to kill your Internet connection on the basis of an accusation that you have infringed their copyright. So for Mr Hall even to refer to ‘the child porn’ angle is, at best, misinformed. Linking S92A to child porn is a despicable lie. It’s a smear, plain and simple.
The Internet poses a threat to the rental video business. It’s going to be interesting to see how it responds. There are legal ways to download movies or watch them online, such as Apple’s iTunes. And there are DVD rental services that use a website to choose and order films. Unfortunately the brick and mortar stores seem determined to try to do their bit to kill the Net rather than embrace it. I’d be surprised of many of their customers agreed with them.
I wonder how many of those who have signed the video rental stores’ petition did so because they were told the lie about child porn? The petition is not going to be particularly credible as a result, if it ever sees the light of day.
I’d like to finish with a quote from Hollywood’s main lobbyist of the late 20th century, Jack Valenti. He got very worked up about the availability of home video equipment which, he said, would threaten the viability of the movie industry. He told Congress that ”the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”
If he’d been right, United Video wouldn’t exist.