Opinion: Copyright laws cause for concern

The debate over S92A is part of a broader debate about the impact of the internet on media and entertainment

During a recent re-run of a famous Simpsons’ episode “Treehouse of Horror XI,” I burst out laughing when, in the opening montage of various horror spoofs, Lisa Simpson walks out the door of the family home dressed as Marilyn Munster with a book on Copyright Law tucked under her arm. Shortly thereafter, a vigilante mob descends on the family and slays them all, except for Lisa who escapes. I had no idea intellectual property protection extended to immunity from death-by-pitchfork from unruly mobs!

Like those of you who are familiar with the episode, the laugh-out-loud reaction cannot be helped when one reflects on the very lively and passionate debate that has arisen over s92A of the Copyright Act.

The Telecommunications Carriers Forum has previously voiced its considerable concerns over s92A, and we reiterate our view that there are a number of serious flaws in this law that need to be addressed. We do not think that the previous Parliament fully realised that it was outsourcing the enforcement of private property rights, with only the vaguest of guidance and no legal protection for ISPs.

More importantly, however, I believe that the debate over s92A is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact of the internet age on the media and entertainment industry. Musicians and moviemakers are typically early adopters of technology, enthusiastic users of the internet and very innovative. But they live within an industry structure that has been relatively slow to adapt to the expectations of consumers in the digital age.

When I was in Europe last year I was told about Fastweb, a fibre-to-the-home provider that is competing with the incumbent telco in a number of cities across Italy. By any measure it is an ambitious and motivated competitor, trying to bring the best of the digital age to its customers and investing millions of euros in the process.

But its IPTV plans have been substantially thwarted because it can't get movies onto its network until several months after the video stores have been renting them. It is no surpise that when the movies become available on the fibre network, there is little interest. We can’t afford to have that sort of nonsense occur here if we are serious about fibre-to-the-home.

Here in New Zealand, we know we are often weeks, if not months behind overseas releases of TV shows. As a result, many Kiwis turn to the internet to stay as up-to-date with Top Chef, McDreamy, and the Flight of the Conchords as their Facebook friends.

When consumers don’t get the content they want, at the time they want it, and in the format they want to use it, the internet often provides them with the tools to just take it. While I don’t condone what is clearly theft, I, like many others, am frustrated at my ability to access content digitally – even though I am prepared to pay for it. Rapid change in the way paid-for content is made available digitally, is at least part of the solution to the piracy problem.

While a number of local content providers including musicians, TVNZ and Radio NZ are facing up the reality of what today’s digital consumers expect, we still have a long way to go before the desires of this country’s digital citizens are met.

Part of that journey is a need for rapid adjustment to business models based on the realities of emerging, rather than historical, value chains.

The other part is legislative reform. It is well past time that we stopped the incremental approach to intellectual property law reform and commenced a first-principles review aimed at building a framework that fully reflects the realities of the internet age.

Only then will we have a durable foundation for digital innovation.

Chivers is CEO of the Telecommunications Carriers' Forum

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