The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill was passed with a large parliamentary majority but also with a big outcry from the public. I’ve written about copyright infringement and now I want to write about the law that has stirred up so much discussion.
Some believe that the bill makes file sharing illegal but this isn’t true. National MP Tau Henare stated that he had done some file sharing, but wouldn’t anymore because it’s now illegal. What the bill does is give copyright owners (and the representatives of copyright owners) the ability to pursue those that they believe have infringed on their copyrighted material via online file sharing. It also protects the identities of end users. The bill doesn’t make file sharing illegal and it doesn’t make BitTorrent illegal. It doesn’t make file sharing of copyrighted material illegal because it always was illegal.
To give credit where credit is due, for the most part the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill is a good piece of law. In it’s original form the law was terrible, worse than terrible, it was idiotic. The bill was so badly written that you could be pursued for copyright infringement just by visiting a site that contains any content or images that are covered by copyright, something that we all do constantly while using the internet each day. Ex-Labour MP Judith Tizard seemed hell bent on passing the law in it’s original form and we should all be grateful that it didn’t happen. There are however still three very big issues with the current bill.
Firstly, the bill allows for the termination of a users internet access. To some this may seem like a fitting punishment for crimes but to others, internet access has become a human right. Using the internet you can commit many crimes; You can threaten someones life, encourage violence, distribute child pornography, commit fraud and so many other crimes that most would consider to be much worse than copyright infringement. None of these crimes carry a penalty of internet termination. The United Nations recently released a report in which internet access was concluded to be a human right. The internet not only allows us to watch videos of sneezing pandas, but also to communicate with others and voice our political opinions.
The second issue with the bill is that it makes a single person responsible for an IP address, the account holder. This means that you are responsible for the activities of anyone using your internet connection, with or without your permission. If your flatmate downloads something, you are responsible. If someone hacks your wireless connection, you are responsible. Again, I find this strange as your aren’t held responsible for any other crime committed via your internet connection. Additionally, tests have proven that it is possible to make it look like an IP address is downloading content that it isn’t. You can trick clients into sending data to a different address. In one test, users were able to make it look like a network enabled printer was downloading pirated films. In the US a judge recently ruled that an IP address is not a user due to a previous case where a man was incorrectly accused of child pornography because someone else was piggybacking off of his internet connection.
Lastly, this law assumes that you are guilty unless you challenge the accusation. Since when did New Zealand law carry a policy of guilty until proven innocent?
The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill is a step in the right direction however it is far from being solid and violates the rights of New Zealanders. The bill should not have been rushed through but instead given the time and further public consultation to iron out these rather large and important problems.