“Guilt by accusation” law stalled

Byron Clark The Spark March 2009

The government has stalled a controversial change to copyright law that would have seen Internet Service Providers removing Internet access from anyone accused (not convicted) of violating intellectual property laws though downloading pirated music or video. The controversial clause was removed by a parliamentary select committee last year, but was put back into the legislation by then-Labour Government minister Judith Tizard – with National’s support. Prime Minister John Key has conceded however that this change to the Copyright Act could be “problematic”, and suggested it could be thrown out. In the week leading up to the original implementation date a web based campaign organised by the Creative Freedom Foundation saw people ‘black out’ content on their websites in protest against the law, culminating on February 23rd when most of the country’s major blogs (and a number of other websites) took down front page content for the day and replaced it with a black page.

The online campaign was successful in drawing public attention to the law, but is not wholly responsible for the amendment being stalled. In January The Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) an organisation that represents 460 public, educational, commercial, industrial, legal and government libraries came out against the law calling it “draconian.”
Last year prominent players in the Information Technology industry including the Internet Service Providers Association called the proposed amendment “A deeply flawed law that undermines fundamental rights and simply will not work.” Key’s government is likely to be trying to juggle the business interests of the music and film industries with those of the IT industry, rather than responding to the blackout campaign. Even if the “guilt by accusation” clause is scrapped when the law is implemented the amendment also contains provisions that criminalise circumventing copy protection, this has been compared unfavourably with the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act which has seen ordinary computer users punished, without stopping piracy.

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