Some context for NZ's harsh new copyright law

, posted: 22-Feb-2009 10:45

How easy is it to become a "copyright criminal" via the Internet and get cut off? Very. This could all happen in in just a few hours:

1) You're rickrolled by someone, and infringe on whatever music label owns the rights to Rick Astley's song.

2) Someone emails you a newspaper article in full, meaning you're downloading copyrighted material.

3) You fire up iTunes, turn up the volume so that people near you can hear the songs that you bought. Maybe loud enough so that people on the street can hear the music. Where's your license to do that? Don't have one? Oh dear... three strikes.

If you speak to IP and entertainment lawyers like Chris Hocquard, they'll tell you that the above won't lead to any consequences and that anyone saying otherwise is "hysterical".

That however depends on if the money that could be squeezed out of you outweighs the cost of shaking you down for it. We all hope that New Zealand won't see bullying like ASCAP in 1996 threatening the Girl and Boy Scouts in the US for singing copyrighted songs at their camps, but if the rights holders can make a quick buck out of shaking down small businesses playing the radio at their premises, it's a reasonably safe bet that they will do so.

This is all about money and intimidation and not about fairness and justice, unfortunately. If you're surprised that both Labour and National support the world's harshest copyright law, then don't be. In 2007, two years ago, I spotted that New Zealand was mentioned in the International Intellectual Property Alliance's Special 301 report.

In brief, it works like this: copyright holders through the IIPA submit reports to the US Trade Representative. As you can imagine, if the USTR has a country down as a "nation of pirates", a free trade deal isn't going to be forthcoming with the USA. You can have a read here on IIPA's site (PDF) on how New Zealand has fared in the past in the eyes of the rights holders. The report is under copyright, so I can't quote from it.

This isn't a conspiracy theory, but the reason why the politicans introduced the harsh new law that nobody apart from the rights holders asked for. Now we, the people who somehow authorised the politicians to criminalise our actions en masse have to decide whether or not the free trade deal was worth it, and also perhaps think about if we're still a sovereign, democratic nation as such. I'm starting to have some doubts about that, actually.

What it does mean, ultimately, is that the copyright law won't be changed. Sections 92A and C won't be repealed. You're not going to find a single politician with the two major parties in support of repealing the law that was dictated to them by the entertainment industry and their lobbyists.

That's the political context that you may or may not agree with. The only way to change it and again, I don't believe for a second that this will happen, is through large-scale civil disobedience. If you're against the new law, organise yourself and test it - and make sure everyone knows you're doing so. Then we'll see if ISPs will act like cops and cut off hundreds of thousands of Internet users' accounts, close down the connections to schools, libraries, businesses etc. It's not very hard to do and remember, the Internet gives you massive scale and leverage. NZ may lose the free trade deal but with the world economy going down the drain, how much is it worth anyway?

Finally, thanks to Dylan Horrocks and Creative Freedom Foundation, for an excellent historical (NOT HYSTERICAL!!) perspective on the copyright poo fight:

Dylan Horrocks

Other related posts:
Video: Kim Dotcom and Mathias Ortman at the IITP Mega breakfast
Two-factor authentication broken
The problem with naming and shaming

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