FORUM: Delay in copyright a small victory

Law delayed, but issues surrounding section 92a remain

The “Blackout” campaigners won a victory last week in getting the implementation of our new copyright law, section 92a which requires ISPs to have a disconnection policy for customers accused of online copyright violation, delayed until 27 March.

They fought a great campaign and got the whole world, the world of geeks at least, watching.

Now, as several others have warned, the battle commences again to ensure we have a sound law and enforcement regime in place.

Even the biggest defenders of section 92a, such as Chris Keall writing in NBR, say the law is badly written and the idea behind it, of making ISPs police this stuff, is “clumsy” and “legally dubious”, before they go on to defend it.

Early last week, Computerworldpublished a leaked letter from the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand that also drew international comment, from digital copyright activist Cory Doctorow.

Talking on the “This Week in Tech” (www.twit.tv/twit) podcast, Doctorow, formerly with the digital civil liberties group Electronic Frontiers, threw a valuable international perspective on the New Zealand situation.

Doctorow say the thrust of the law is not unique to New Zealand.

We are the first of several dominoes the music and film industries hope will fall.

“The thing about this is it treats your internet access as the thing you use to get MP3s, as opposed to the single wire that delivers freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, your health information, education and job — and not just for you but for everyone else in your household,” he says.

He points out that UK prisoners are getting degrees at Open University across the internet.

“People who get convicted of felonies get internet access but people accused of copyright violation don’t,” he says.

He is equally scathing of the recording industry’s assertions, also contained in the leaked letter, that it’s evidence is “highly reliable, well tested and accepted worldwide”, saying they have sued old ladies, dead people and people in comas on the basis of that evidence.

University researchers studying how the music and film industries identify infringers found the process flawed and managed to get them to send take-down letters to a laser printer they identified as downloading an Indiana Jones movie.

“Not only is no one suited to replace the judiciary and due process for when it comes to disconnecting people from the internet, or any other substantial area of law, but the record and movie industry are especially not suited to replacing the judiciary and the rule of law when it comes to this sort of thing,” Doctorow says.

He also warns that repealing the law here may not be a big bang, but may involve a series of court challenges that could go on for a long time.

It looks as if there may be agreement to appoint a mediator between the ISPs and the organisations that represent some rights holders, but what we need is a mediator between the ISP and the user who faces being cut off.

If this law is introduced, we also need to see the concept of fair use defined and defended in law and we need to ensure copyright holders consider fair use before, during and after they make accusations – something they seem incapable of doing at the moment.

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