Monday, March 23, 2009

People power

Prime Minister John Key confirmed today that the government was killing the infamous Section 92A of the Copyright Amendment Act after Internet Service Providers failed to come up with a voluntary code of practice to enforce it.

The grassroots "Blackout" campaign opposing the law has been called the first mass protest campaign conducted on Twitter, though Facebook and dozens of high-traffic websites around New Zealand also played a part.

About ten days ago, the leader of the neo-conservative ACT Party announced he would work to repeal Section 92A. After that, the leader of one-man party United Future, like ACT a coalition partner with National, announced that he also wanted 92A repealed. So did Internet giant Google. The telecommunications company TelstraClear pulled out of the negotiations on the code of practice. Add it all up, and it was pretty well doomed.

The report on TVNZ’s One News this evening sounded almost frightened that not having the flawed law in place will make it harder to get a “free trade” agreement with the United States. An FTA with the US won’t happen any time soon, possibly not for many years, so there’s plenty of time to get it right. But a larger question is, why should the US be allowed to dictate our laws, anyway?

The architect of the law, former Labour MP Judith Tizzard, said the National-led Government “fluffed” the opportunity to craft a Kiwi solution. Nonsense: They responded to the demands of ordinary New Zealanders for a fair copyright law that respects fundamental concepts like natural justice. Tizzard seems not to understand such things, nor the right of people to oppose bad law.

Tizzard called the “Blackout” protest campaign “childish”, adding pompously: "It is not going to get us any further forward. While I understand the concern of internet users who think that their rights to free music and free films are threatened, the right is not to steal New Zealand music and film makers' work. The right to use the internet is a vital one, but libraries can provide it."

What planet is that woman on? The battle was never about illegal downloads—it was about the seeming presumption of guilt, a legal response out of proportion to the alleged offence and vague wording totally open to all sorts of draconian interpretations. She also seems unaware that her law could’ve cut off Internet access in libraries, too, if patrons used it there in a manner inconsistent with her law.

Tizzard lost her seat in Parliament in the last election, but she could be back if both Dr. Michael Cullen and Helen Clark leave Parliament before this term ends (this assumes that, as expected, a current Labour List MP runs in and wins the by-election for Helen Clark’s seat). At least as an Opposition backbencher she couldn’t do any more harm, unlike her now-rejected law, which would have.

Kudos to John Key for dumping this bad law, and shame on Judith Tizzard for continuing to defend it.


epilonious said...

I agree with Tizzard that the blackout campaign was childish. I always think such things are sort of dumb and it annoys me a little bit that people will act like changing a twitter icon did anything as opposed to the law being so bad and inappropriate and arbitrary that it just wouldn't survive in polite society. I feel (and you've illustrated) that it had a lot more to do with the legislators and commentators and a lot less to do with those taking part in a fad protest.

That being said, I'm glad it was overturned. I still think the best way to enforce such things are the good old fashioned "turn the gray market into a white market and then prosecute those who are making big mint on the newly formed black market" style.

It's much easier to get sympathy by going "Hey, some jackass is getting money for our product when we were selling it in the same format legally, we wanna sue their ass" than it is to go "WE DON'T WANT PEOPLE GETTING IT THIS WAAAAY! THROW THEM IN JAIL FOR CREATING A NEW MARKET BEFORE WE CAN WORK OUT A WAY TO CAPITALIZE ON IT!!!"

Anonymous said...

i'm not familiar with the law or the campaign, but i'm in support of free and open access to the 'net, while protecting creators' rights to their own work.

as the US is the dominant economic power in the world - for now - other countries are bound to do a little sucking-up, whether consciously or otherwise.

the international monetary fund goes around the world determining policies and laws in countries...what can i say, he who pays the piper calls the tune... it's not right, but in a money-driven world, it's what happens

Roger Owen Green said...

The American copyright law, in general, is SO off balance in favor of the creator that it begs to be violated regularly. I discovered recently that the Canadian copyright law is generating controversy as well.

Arthur Schenck said...

epilonious: I know that you generally don't think much of activists or activism, but in this case, you're way off base. The law was not killed because of "the law being so bad and inappropriate and arbitrary that it just wouldn't survive in polite society", but precisely because of citizen pressure.

Right up to the start of the Blackout campaign, and even in the early stages, ALL relevant government ministers said the law should take effect as planned, we should wait to see how it worked then fix it "if necessary". The Prime Minister said he didn't know anything about it at all. It was only at the climax of the Blackout campaign that the government finally backed down and delayed implementation of the law.

After that, populist politicians got on the bandwagon and the media here started paying attention. Scoff if you will, but none of that would've happened without the Blackout campaign.

It was far more than just blacking out Twitter icons, though that was the most-reported. New Zealand websites were also blacked out that day, and a protest was held on the steps of Parliament (which is rarer than you might think). While it may have been annoying to you to see blacked-out Twitter icons, it was highly effective for us in New Zealand when we saw nearly all icons blacked out—even among folks overseas (and Stephen Fry deserves the credit for spreading awareness overseas). Add to that black screens instead of popular websites and the overall effect HERE, at least, was highly impressive—and effective.

So, it worked like this: The previous government passed Judith Tizzard's bad law, then the new government thought it should go into force, flaws and all. People rebelled (including blacking out their Twitter icons). Politicians followed the people, the media finally started to take notice—thanks in no small measure to the global Internet response—and eventually the government did as the people demanded and killed the law. Without that "childish" campaign, we'd now be under one of the world's worst and most repressive internet copyright laws—which is to say, it would be the worst among democracies.

Where I do agree with you is that it was the wrong approach to real problems. The introduction of legal digital downloads of music and films has shown that if people are given easy, cost-effective and legal digital solutions, they'll take them. The way I see it, the current situation isn't a failure of law but of imagination on the part of the media conglomerates.

migratingfishswim: One big difference between the US and NZ is that New Zealand takes international law and treaty obligations very seriously. If there was an international solution, New Zealand would embrace it easily without being dictated to by a single dominant country or any organisations it runs.

Roger: That's true, but US copyright law does have one thing NZ law has never has: A "fair use" provision. I read somewhere that it's worth over US$1 billion to US businesses.

While I'm not familiar with the details of the proposed Canadian law, it does seem to have at least some of the same bad thinking behind it.