The New Zealand government has taken a novel approach to try to fix what seems to be a nagging problem for governments in today’s connected world: peer-to-peer file-sharing. On Oct. 3, Associate Commerce Minister Judith Tizard announced that recent copyright amendments will come into force, including a provision (92A) that requires internet service providers to “reasonably implement, a policy for termination of accounts of repeat copyright infringers in appropriate circumstances.”
The Recording Industry Association of New Zealand has endorsed such measures, indicating that the provision is a “sensible, proportionate way of addressing the issue and will help to create the right environment for the creation and use of digital content.”
Considering the consumer interests at stake, this provision also received major backlash. At geekzone.co.nz, the pitfalls of such a provision are outlined. They fall into two main camps: (1) false accusations, and (2) disproportionate impacts.
With regards to first point, the blog post quotes Colin Jackson, who fears for the procedural rights of the accused infringers, stating that “ISPs have to cut people off the Internet if a music company accuses them of copyright infringement. There’s no trial, no proof, and no accountability on the record companies to get it right.” Further, Geekzone quotes internet advocacy group InternetNZ, who fears that the uncertainty of the provision “leaves the door wide open to those who seek disconnection of an alleged repeat infringer based on flimsy evidence, or worse, allegations alone.”
With regards to this criticism, the devil is seemingly in the details. Since the legislation was not explicit about any procedural protections for the accused infringer, the fear that such a provision can be abused is indeed a real threat. However, such criticisms can be allayed if a procedure for notice and reply and impartial determination of copyright infringement is put in place. Of course, whether this will be done remains to be seen as such additional procedures undoubtedly add expense to the scheme.
With regards to the second point, Geekzone.co.nz notes that cutting off internet access may be too blunt an instrument to stem copyright infringement. That is, individuals will be precluded from using the internet for a host of legal online activities (such as email, remote computing, or internet telephony) that they should otherwise still be able to partake in because such activities do not have to do with copyright infringement.
Seemingly, removal of such users may have negative impacts on the information economy. If individuals are precluded from accessing the internet, and if this cutting off happens in great numbers, many individuals will be precluded from shopping online, booking vacations online, or viewing ads online. Indeed, a side effect of this provision may be a slowing of New Zealand’s internet economy.
On the other hand, it may also be the case that the strong disincentive of losing internet access just might do the trick to stop New Zealand citizens from participating in P2P file-sharing.
The bill is slated to come into force on February 28, 2009. In the meantime, the ISPs and the copyright holders are to work out how this provision will actually work. No doubt, New Zealanders (and others around the world including Canadians) will be curious to see what the eventual process will be, and further, whether cutting off internet access will have any adverse side effects. Will this be hailed as a novel way of addressing copyright infringement via P2P file-sharing, or will the effects of limited access to the internet for New Zealanders end up hindering the economy more than it benefits? Only time will tell.