US studios want NZ copyright justice 'streamlined'

Movie studios harden up over copyright hearings

United States movie studios have toughened their attitude towards the New Zealand Government's proposed compromise on tackling internet piracy.

Federation Against Copyright Theft executive director Tony Eaton has signalled the lobby group may push for a "streamlined" enforcement regime that would mean people accused of piracy could be cut off from the internet without a full hearing.

The federation is a branch of the US Motion Picture Association. It initially welcomed a proposal to redraft the scrapped section 92A of the Copyright Act, which was put out for consultation by Commerce Minister Simon Power last month.

It said it demonstrated the government's commitment to ensuring New Zealand's online environment was safe and secure.

But it now says the government would be "moving backward" if it pressed ahead with the proposal.

The original section 92A would have forced internet service providers to cut off copyright infringers "in reasonable circumstances", acting on evidence from copyright holders.

Under the new proposal, developed by experts appointed by the Economic Development Ministry, cases would be heard by arbitrators or the Copyright Tribunal, which would have the power to fine or disconnect pirates.

Eaton says the federation has hardened its attitude since the revised proposal was released. "We were engaged with the Government and officials and were going down one line of thought, and then they have come back with something totally different that we were not expecting."

It decided to take the unusual step of setting out its concerns ahead of a deadline for submissions, in response to demands from industry and officials.

Eaton says the federation does not have a problem with a judicial process for tackling internet piracy, if it could be streamlined.

"The concern is that we send out 1000 infringement notices, and then someone says, `The way to stall this is let's all go to arbitration', and a year later we could still be going through that same process.

"Do we get to the point where we have 1000 cases to be heard by the Copyright Tribunal? If everyone brings their lawyer, we will only do five in a day."

Eaton says an alternative might be for copyright owners to be allowed to present evidence about infringements in bulk to an adjudicator who could order disconnections.

"That is something that needs exploring."

People accused of internet piracy might be deemed to have waived some rights if they had not disputed warning notices.

Creative Freedom Foundation co-founder Bronwyn Holloway-Smith (pictured, right, with Labour ICT spokesperson Clare Curran at a section 92A protest last year) says one of the big issues with the original section 92A was the lack of "due process". The foundation was set up to campaign against the law change.

Picture: CFF

Holloway-Smith says it is vital that independent experts make the decision over whether copyright has been infringed, and that people have the right to defend themselves in person. "Otherwise you risk innocent people being punished."

Submissions on the revised section 92A were due on Friday. An Economic Development Ministry spokeswoman says a summary of submissions will be published on its website.

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