In a surprise development, during the next few hours New Zealand’s government is to rush through legislation that will target Internet users who share copyrighted material online without rightsholder permission.
The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill, which unanimously passed its first reading in Parliament in April 2010, will put in place a 3 strikes-style regime, whereby Internet service providers will be initially required to send warning letters to alleged infringers at the behest of rights holders.
New Zealand’s Copyright Tribunal will be empowered to rule on cases of alleged repeat infringement and will be given the authority to hand down fines up to a maximum of $15,000 ($11,733 US).
For repeat offenders, a six month period of Internet disconnection may be applied, a measure too far for Green MP Gareth Hughes who wasn’t even aware the Bill was coming up today.
”It really surprised me because we haven’t debated it since November,” he said.
Hughes later confirmed he would request an amendment to remove the suspension clause but a spokesperson for Commerce Minister Simon Power said it would be opposed. While the Greens are against disconnections, they supports the Bill in principle.
Today’s second reading of the Bill is being accompanied by a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) which in part is aimed at clarifying burden of proof issues in a current clause.
According to intellectual property lawyer Rick Shera, the clause created a presumption in favour of copyright owners and the changes being considered remove the reference to the presumption of guilt being “conclusive”.
“I do act for a number of copyright owners, I can’t see why there is a need for a presumption, I mean if copyright owners are sure of their evidence then they would simply submit that evidence to the copyright tribunal,” Shera told NBR. “The tribunal is perfectly capable of weighing up whose evidence is better, that’s what tribunals do all the time.”
The Bill is expected to pass its third and final stage during the next few hours. The news is already causing protests on Twitter, where users are calling for a repeat of last year’s demonstrations.