Earthquakes and Downloads: Shaky Foundations?

 

 

You can make a law out of anything, as long as you’ve got a good fault line to rely on.

Yesterday, the New Zealand government called an urgent session to deal with legislation relating to Christchurch earthquake recovery efforts. Given the devastation and hardship that many Christchurch residents continue to face, no one can question the need for quick action. If an urgent sitting helps this, I’d imagine we’re all for it.

However, It would seem that urgent sessions are also a fabulous way to sneak legislation through in a hurry. Regardless of whether or not this legislation is relevant to the reason for the urgent session.

Simon Power, the National MP who is sponsoring the hotly debated, highly controversial ‘Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill’ must have been in dreamland.

In 2009, the first proposed amendment to our copyright law caused widespread outrage. Internet users across the country started a blackout campaign to protest a proposal that would force ISPs to terminate a user’s Internet access if they were repeatedly accused of ‘infringing’.

Avatars around the nation went black. Backed by organisations such as the Creative Freedom Foundation the amendment was scrapped. At the time, Newstalk ZB ran the headline “Government Dumps Stupid Law.” The stupid law is back.

The idea of terminating a person’s internet as a response to file sharing, proven or otherwise, strikes many as a draconian and ill considered response to the ‘Pirate Bay’ problem.

The reaction on Twitter has been swift and fierce:

“Blocking internet because of piracy is like revoking a driver’s license due to burglary. #blackout” – @nzben

“The govt should just get the “save as” option removed from our browsers. #blackout” @haydenraw

“Not sure how urgent legislation about file sharing helps out Christchurch, or anyone at all. Who laid this turd on the table?! #blackout” @pchilton

I am not arguing against copyright. I do not believe, nor should anyone, that creative works are freely available to those who consider themselves fans of the work. Sharing is a good thing – copyright violation is not. I will gladly compensate you for your hard work and passion.

What I am against, is a disproportionate amendment that turns people into criminals for what isn’t a criminal offence.

New Zealand is not a pirate nation where I can steal the fruits of your labour. We have copyright law. It is entirely possible that our legislation needs updating to reflect the rise and rise of the Internet.

Threatening to terminate a person’s Internet, is not the means with which to accomplish this. This amendment should be a carefully considered and thoroughly debated piece of work. That’s not what we’re witnessing.

We’re watching our government bend over backwards to please international companies, to appease foreign nations and to smooth the way for trade deals. This is very much a case of legislation being written for the top 1% of the world, while the rest suffer from a poorly considered law.

Blackout. Not only on Twitter, but on the streets. It’s time to be heard, and it needs more than people behind computer screens.

Oh and if you want to, take this article. Print it. Edit it. Remove letters to make dirty words. Use it to start fires. I don’t care. I won’t take your Internets. Don’t let the government take yours.

Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...

9 Comments

  1. The Common Room Reply

    This is an interesting situation, and for the record, I agree with the principle of what the legislation is trying to do, but the process of applying a 15 year old bandaid to modern context just isn’t going to work. That bandaid has no sticky adhesive left. Not to mention it’s covered in hair and fluff from the ground.

    I had a quick read of the bill, as quick as you can when reading legislation, and there are a couple of items that stuck out to me as fatal flaws in their understanding of how the internet works and what this means for copyright infringement.

    The biggest was the use of the term “internet” as a single entity. ie. “(a) material is uploaded via, or downloaded from, the Internet using an application or network that enables the simultaneous sharing of material between multiple users; and (b) uploading and downloading may, but need not, occur at the same time.” In my eyes, the internet is constructed of network of complex individual entities that all co-exist to produce what we call the “internet”. This bill at least requires a definition of what the internet actually encompasses. The term “internet” is very ambiguous at the best of times, potentially they should be looking at using more specific technical jargon if they’re wanting it to hold up in court.

    Another blurry area I would love to know more about is what happens to our temporary internet folder? All images and videos we watch are downloaded from a server onto our personal computers. Is this a copyright infringement in the same way that if I burn a friend’s CD onto my computer I’m committing an offense? Where is the distinction between viewing, downloading, or legal usage and copyright infringement?

    I could go on, but I wont at this point. If anyone has answers to my questions above, I’d love to hear them.

    – Hayden

  2. Curious Design Reply

    I do question the use of urgency, but the reality is that the Government has a lot of legislation to get done before the Election.

    There is no conspiracy with this bill.

    It had been in process for years, with public and professional submissions discussed and taken into account.
    S.

    1. Anonymous Reply

      The last time it was debated was November. This was an issue that has caused much debate, and has experienced widespread objection from individuals, organisations and businesses. This was not an ‘urgent’ issue. I very much believe that amendments to copyright law have been spread around the world as part of international trade discussions, and that this is why National have been so keen to get it enacted.

      There was very little need to rush this through. Who are they scoring points with?

      1. Curious Design

        I agree with the urgency point. Absolutely. But like I said, there is a lot more legislation to get through in the coming months.
        I haven’t got a problem with NZ being able to say to the US that Adobe software is not going to be illegally shared here. We as a country benefit from GST and profit taxes through legitimate sales.
        We DO have a culture here of piracy. Software. Music. How many people do YOU know download and watch TV shows or Movies before they’re released here. It IS illegal. (Do note the difference between streaming and downloading). This bill gives the Rights owners a very clear process to follow to stop offenders from distributing their product. The best thing is that the judgement is now through the District Court, not your ISP. And the reality is that NO-ONE will be disconnected for 6 months. I believe that most people, if they get a detailed warning (as they have to) will panic and stop their illegal activity.

      2. Anonymous

        I disagree with termination, entirely and without reservation. That it’s ‘unlikely’ is not something that makes me any more comfortable with it. We have copyright legislation. I admit that it needed amending, but this was never the way to go about it. I agree there should be a clear process to protect rights, but it shouldn’t involve termination. Fines aren’t enough? There should have been time provided to have discussions such as these, before it was signed into law. I think there was a realisation that there would be widespread opposition to the termination provision, so they rushed it through. I’m ashamed of our government. Truly.

  3. Codifier Reply

    I have some questions if anyone cares to enlighten me:

    1. What will the likely cost of loging a copyright infringement notice be? If it’s not prohibitive, with a bit of crowd-sourcing could we flood the tribunal with complaints to show how absurd this law is? How many of us would be willing to sacrifice our Internet connections for 6 months to prove a point? If I wish to enforce the copyright ownership of my hastily scrawled picture of a spider to the tune of $5, would anybody be brave enough to illegally download said picture so we can generate a bit of paperwork to slow down whoever is responsible for enforcing this ridiculous law?

    2. I know that file-sharing is the target here, but are there not millions different places on the internet where you can download copyrighted material without paying for it? What about YouTube? All you have to do is unknowingly click on a shortened URL and suddenly you are viewing a copyrighted segment from Saturday Night Live. If the complainant does not require evidence of intent, then couldn’t people be easily tricked into a technical infringement?

    3. On the topic of YouTube – if they’re hosting the copyrighted content, then will the government cut THEM off? It might be said they’re immune due to being a foreign entity – but they’ve got servers here. And, if a foreign entity wants to protect its copyrighted material in NZ, isn’t it fair that a foreign party be subject to the same law that NZ residents are? It might also be said that YouTube “streams” – so it’s not really downloading – but seriously, if the government thinks that it’s impossible to save a copy of streamed media then they have lost the plot.

    4. I appreciate the sentiment of blacking out your avatars but I fail to see how that is going make a jot of difference to a room full of stuffy old capitalist politicians who probably type with two index fingers. What are you ACTUALLY going to do? Start a Facebook group? Srsly?

    1. Codifier Reply

      Actually I almost forgot:

      5. Exactly HOW do you prove that you were NOT infringing copyright in the case of an erroneous notice? It seems to be a gaping hole in this law that an innocent person may be burdened with the stress and difficulty of proving something clarity in the chaotic world of dynamic IP addressing, packet switching and content bombardment. Or do you just need plausible deniability? Should be setting up an open WiFi access point on my network so that if I’m ever accused I can plead incompetence and blame it on the pesky neighbourhood kids misbehaving with my Internet connection?

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