Internet Ban Proposed for Serial Copyright Infringers

The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill, which allows for large fines and six month Internet suspensions, has already passed its first reading in the New Zealand Parliament. However, according to copyright advocates, it doesn't go far enough. Instead of simply disconnecting repeat infringers, they are calling for a heavier punishment that would take people's right to Internet access away.

In 2008, the New Zealand Government proposed new legislation to deal with illicit file-sharing. The law was the subject of widespread public protests which eventually caused the Government to scrap their plans and go back to the the drawing board in order to remove the “guilty upon accusation” elements.

Earlier this year the Government proposed a modified Bill to tackle copyright infringements on the Internet. The major feature of the Bill is a so-called “3 Strikes” regime which would enable copyright owners to claim damages and make requests to the District Court for infringers to be disconnected from the Internet for up to six months.

The Bill unanimously passed the first reading in Parliament in April and was referred to the Commerce Select Committee, who heard submissions on the Bill in Parliament today. During the hearing parties both for and against got the chance to have their say and propose changes to the drafted legislation.

One of the most radical proposals at the hearing came from the New Zealand Law Society. The current draft is insufficient to deter serial infringers from downloading music and movies without consent from copyright holders, they argued. Instead of simply suspending the account of infringers, they suggested taking offenders’ right to Internet access away entirely.

“The Bill should include a power to allow the court to order that a person cannot open an account with another ISP during the period of the suspension,” said Clive Elliott, the convenor of the society’s intellectual property law committee.

“This would remove uncertainty about how infringement notices are issued, clarifying whether copyright owners or ISP’s are responsible for dealing with issues where infringement notices are challenged, and removing restrictions on the Copyright Tribunal’s ability to award costs.”

Aside from proponents of more stringent measures, there were also several parties that suggested scrapping the ‘three-strikes’ measures entirely.

“Disconnection needs to be removed from this Bill. It needs to go on pragmatic and on principled grounds,” said InternetNZ Policy Director Jordan Carter told the Committee.

“A disconnection penalty is a response way out of line with the harm caused by infringing file sharing. People are using the Internet for a huge range of important economic and social tasks. Cutting off their accounts is akin to banning someone from using the postal system because they were caught posting copied music CDs,” he added.

Seach giant Google also joined the discussion, and raised a valid point that is a core problem of these types of legislation. Since the Bill targets account holders who are linked to the infringing IP-addresses and not the actual infringers, libraries, Internet cafes and public hotspots might be terminated as collateral damage.

The Commerce Select Committee will now review the submissions from the various parties and report back to the Government later this year.

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