Libraries fear internet closure over download law

Discontinuation of internet service in public libraries raised in submission to Ministry of Economic Development

Libraries may have to close their public internet services if the process used to identify offenders infringing copyright by downloading and uploading is allowed to stand, says the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (Lianza).

In a submission on the Ministry of Economic Development’s discussion document about scales of penalties and charges for policing the law, Lianza continues to claim the definitions in the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Regulations and the associated parts of the amended Copyright Act are misconceived and potentially unfair to libraries and their users.

Its argument is a reiteration of the one in a supplementary submission to Parliament on the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Bill in May last year, but the threat to disruption of internet services is a new element in this latest submission.

Tony Millet, chair of the Lianza committee on copyright, says he didn’t raise the possibility of discontinuation of internet access in libraries before, as they had hoped their original submission would be heeded.

He says it will not be the libraries that will discontinue internet use, it will be their councils that govern them, “should fines (up to a maximum of $15,000) be awarded against libraries and their governing bodies by the Copyright Tribunal, or should a District Court require internet access to be cut off for up to six months for a library and probably also its governing body.”

It appears a “user” in the proposed law and regulations is understood as the same as an “account holder” with an internet protocol address provider, says Lianza in its submission.

“This … is certainly not true of organisations such as libraries, schools [or] universities”, it says. The University of Auckland’s library, for example, provides service for 45,000 students – “45,000 users, but only one account holder”.

This, Lianza says, presents obvious difficulties with identifying an offending user by his or her IP address and in identifying “repeat infringers” – a key concept in the system of progressive warning notices set up in the Act.

In practical terms it will be impossible for a library to identify an offender, Lianza says, and this means the library itself may be held liable for infringement by any of its users unless it is specifically protected against this.

“It is hoped that rights holders, the Copyright Tribunal and District Courts will recognise that taking all reasonable and practicable steps by libraries to minimise copyright infringement is a lawful defence against charges of liability,” says Lianza’s submission.

A scheme of requesting identification from every user is theoretically possible, but this, Lianza says, would “prevent use by non-library members and those who do not have appropriate identification, such as overseas visitors, with consequent impact on our tourist industry.”

Being forced to withdraw internet service would “hugely impede one of the major roles of libraries, which is to make information (including digital information) as widely and freely available as possible,” the submission says.

Millet says in the meantime Lianza is recommending libraries put in place measures to minimise copyright infringement in their institutions.

“Libraries also need to consider whether they should set up processes and systems requiring all users of internet-access computers to provide contact information, supported by appropriate ID, and that they record this information, together with the date and time and computer used, in case the library (after 1 September) receives infringement notices alleging unlawful downloading or file sharing,” he says.

“There will, of course, be considerable compliance costs in setting up such systems to record, store and retrieve this data, and also an increased burden on library staff checking and recording identification details of users who are not registered library borrowers.”

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