May 1 has been designated “Three Strikes Day” – a day for nationwide protest against amendments to the Copyright Act put in place by the passage of the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill.
The amendments, passed under urgency on April 14, are designed to discourage illegal online sharing of copyright material. Though the ultimate penalty, suspension of a repeat offender’s internet account for six months, has been held in abeyance, protesters fear the spectre of such a punishment will deter wireless providers from setting up free public wi-fi networks, in case they are closed down after an offence by one of their casual users.
The “Three Strikes” appellation refers to the three stages of the new sanctions put in place by the legislation; in theory this means three acts of downloading at different times could be enough to brand someone a repeat infringer and summon them before the Copyright Tribunal.
The chief sore point, however, seems to be the way the legislation was passed – in an urgent session whose main purpose was to put in place legislation to deal with recovery from the Christchurch earthquake.
“Not only is the urgency process being abused, but our government is also exploiting the people of Christchurch by using their unfortunate situation to pass underhanded legislation,” Pirate Party of New Zealand secretary Noel Zeng says in a statement on the fledgling party's website.
The Wellington arm of the planned protest, involving a march on Parliament, has attracted over 400 committed attendees , through a Facebook page entitled: “Mayday, mayday, we are sinking under idiots in power”.
Already, however, the message is becoming blurred into a general plank of ensuring government accountability. The lead message on the Wellington Facebook site, under the names of Christopher Mark Wingate, Lindsay Breach and Hayden Bagshaw, alludes to New Zealand’s indebtedness and the sale of state assets as well as the Copyright Act.
One of the protest pages quotes Vikram Kumar, CEO of InternetNZ: “We should have had debate and broad agreement about the role of copyright in an Internet age before legislating what the penalties for infringing should be.” Kumar himself has pointed to that citation and the Wellington Facebook page from his Twitter stream.