Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Friday, May 28, 2010

Copyright and copywrong

On Tuesday I went to a copyright seminar organized by InternetNZ. The context is that Parliament is consulting on a Bill (a draft piece of legislation) to replace the appalling section 92A of the Copyright Act, which was killed at the last minute in 2009 by the then new National-led government.

Several themes came out from the seminar. The biggest one for me, which was mainly expounded by Nat Torkington, was that there is not a problem that needs to be solved here. Revenues for all the industries that claim to be affected by unlawful downloads are going up very healthily. They claim that their industries are being devastated by the huge volume of copyright infringements, but you would have to say that these claims are not backed up by the evidence. Even so, the so-called content industries are an order of magnitude smaller than the Internet industries they seek to control.

Another theme was the sheer inappropriateness of Internet termination as a penalty for anything. To the government’s credit, it has made termination a last resort which has to be enacted by a court, but even so it’s just not a useful thing to do. You don’t get your Internet connection cut off for far more serious offences. Why should copyright infringement be so special? We don’t cut the road to someone’s house if they have used it to move stolen goods. Just like road access, the Internet is used by everyone in a building, and by others to deliver services to the building.

The Bill sets out a regime of notices that get passed to and fro between a copyright holder and someone accused of copyright infringement, through the ISP concerned. This is mostly aimed at educating the downloader, many of whom don’t realise that they are doing something or illegal, or that they can be caught. This has always been the approach promoted by InternetNZ and it has a lot to commend it, although it was clear at the seminar that there’s still some detail to be worked out in the way it’s set out in the Bill.

Persisting in illegal downloading would lead to the Copyright Tribunal levying a fine. There was a lot of discussion on how much was reasonable. My view is that it should be set at a multiple of what it would cost to get the files legally, say three times the cost on iTunes. We would also need to figure out what to do if the file isn’t available legally in New Zealand but it is elsewhere – I’d probably suggest setting it at the cost in other markets, to provide an incentive for copyright holders to bring things to New Zealand at the same time as everywhere else. As Clare Curran pointed out in her speech in the House on this Bill, the oscar-winning movie Hurt Locker wasn’t made available in this country for months after it was released elsewhere, and not until after it had won its oscar.

The MED officials present were writing furiously for the most part. I’m hopeful that they took a lot of the very sensible points made back to the drafting process. They will probably be advising the Commerce Select Committee which is considering the Bill at the moment.

Talking of which, that committee has called for submissions by 17th June. It’s a really good idea to send them a submission. The process is straightforward – just write down clearly your arguments and what you want the committee to do with the Bill. You can look at this post for ideas. Probably the biggest point to ask the Select Committee for is to remove Internet account termination as any kind of option, because it’s disproportionate and unworkable.

posted by colin at 3:15 pm  

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