Termination of internet accounts as a penalty for persistent copyright infringement through music and movie downloading could put people in peril of breaking the law in more serious ways, lawyer Rick Shera has told a seminar on the Copyright (infringing File-Sharing) Bill, now before Parliament.
The new bill replaces the widely condemned Section 92A and improves on it, but it still far from perfect, speakers at the meeting said.
Government is well down the road of providing services online in preference to handling paper forms, with the laudable aim of saving taxpayers money, Shera says. Already there are some essential tasks, such as filing PAYE tax returns for some companies and recording an interest on the Personal Property Securities Register, that are impossible to do any other way.
“It’s very important to do it and [in the case of the PPSR] important to be timely, because you may need to establish priority over other creditors.”
Someone cut off from all internet connection would not be able to perform such essential or legally mandated tasks, Shera says.
It’s all very well for copyright holders’ representatives to say an offender can find another way onto the internet to discharge essential tasks, he says, “but surely they’re not suggesting you should file your PAYE returns from an internet café.”
Use of the internet for government processes will only expand, with the Department of Internal Affairs encouraging government agency CIOs to move to cloud computing, Shera says. There is “direct conflict” between what government is advising with one hand and levying as punishment with the other.
Such arguments are held up as substantiating the long-held position of InternetNZ, organiser of the seminar, that termination should be taken out of the Bill. This was the overwhelming mood of the meeting.
A suggestion from the floor that only classes of traffic relevant to the offence could be blocked, allowing essential tasks to be completed, was roundly dismissed as treading on another delicate question, net neutrality — the principle that all internet traffic should be treated alike.
The definition of the “account” to be terminated is also unclear, when many other services could be bundled with the internet service used to offend, says Shera, who has prepared a detailed analysis of the Bill. Account termination continues to put innocent parties at peril of disconnection if a user of the same service indulges in repeated illegal downloading and gets the service chopped, he says.
Business consultant Alick Wilson, who was also present at the seminar, sees aspiring providers of public wi-fi hotspots being dissuaded because of a similar risk. This, he suggests, could handicap a significant element of New Zealand’s emerging broadband infrastructure.
Kim Connolly-Stone and Peter Bartlett from the Ministry of Economic Development’s intellectual property division were on hand to give the point of view of the legislation’s developers and David Diprose, Vodafone's partner performance manager, to give the view of a long-term ISP representative. Though the new bill has removed the more onerous policing duties imposed on ISPs by s92A, they will still have considerable work to do in the suggested process of bringing copyright offenders to book, Diprose says.
Major copyright-holder lobbies were not visibly represented, though Matthew Holloway of the Creative Freedom Foundation, gave the artists’ view.