New Zealand is about to experience a dramatic shift in power between media conglomerates and media consumers. Media corporations and music licensing groups will have unprecedented power over ordinary people—power that no government could wield.
At issue is Section 92A of the Copyright Act passed by the previous Labour-led Government, due to come into force on February 28. Under its provisions, Internet Service Providers will have to cut off the Internet connection of anyone who is accused of “repeatedly” illegally downloading copyrighted media files. The Act doesn’t require that any proof be provided, it doesn’t allow for any sort of due process. All that’s required is an accusation and the ISP must terminate their customer’s Internet connection. This is so heinous, so despicably anti-democratic that I would’ve sworn it came from Bush-Cheney, but no, it came from a supposedly centre-left government.
ISPs are concerned that they bear all the legal risk in enforcing the law—something private companies aren’t usually called upon to do—and yet have no protection from either their own customers or copyright holders. Damned no matter what they do, in other words. Not surprisingly, they call the law “deeply flawed”.
The Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand (TUANZ), which has been a forceful advocate for telecommunications consumers, and often a thorn in the side of the telecoms companies, fully agrees.
So, who wins in this stupid “solution”? Well, no one, really, but the only one claiming a benefit is the recording industry. Old media have been unwilling to seize the opportunities of new media and instead have tried to punish ordinary people. They cannot grasp that income models originating in past centuries are no longer workable and new solutions are needed. Apple’s iTunes Store is a perfect example of what works: It offers legal downloads of music for purchase and movies for purchase or hire. Other models work for other content.
A group of artists has formed a group called the Creative Freedom Foundation to fight 92A. Their “Not In My Name” campaign seeks to have artists join forces—even against their own industry—to push for fair copyright. They’re almost alone in pointing out plenty of flaws in 92A that could catch-out innocent people.
In my opinion, one of the best prospects for moving forward—especially for small, beginning or non-commercial content providers—is Creative Commons, which reserves copyright while allowing various types of licences for use of that content (both this blog and my podcast are covered by Creative Commons licenses).
The previous Labour-led government made a huge mistake in passing this terrible bill. But it doesn’t look like the new National-led Government will fix it. While admitting there are problems with the law, Steven Joyce, the new Minister for Communications and Information Technology, said "We're prepared to look at further changes if necessary."
That’s simply not good enough. If National is serious about personal freedom and all the other things it said it was for, then it must scrap Section 92A and start over. It’s the only sensible thing to do.