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Digital copyright — the world starts to worry

Stephen Bell | June 28, 2013
Stephen Bell looks back at the copyright debate.

ICT journalism in New Zealand sometimes seems to be in a small sector of a small geographical corner; what we say is important to us and our local industry, but is given little attention by the rest of New Zealand, or the world.

However, proposed modifications to copyright law over the past five years turned the eyes of the general populace to the internet — as the subject of news stories rather than simply the medium of access — particularly when the public at large were confronted with the possibility that they could lose the online access which had become such an essential feature of many of their lives.

Concern clicked up a notch locally when discussion of New Zealand's participation in international treaties raised the possibility that internet users would have their internet accounts suspended albeit temporarily, if unable to defend themselves convincingly against an accusation of illegal access to copyrighted material. For the first time, there was widespread public discussion of whether access to the internet qualified as a human right.

The police raid on Kim Dotcom's home early last year and the abrupt shutdown of his Megaupload file-sharing site turned the eyes of the world on New Zealand and its internet-law affairs.

A well-organised campaign by the ICT industry and its customers, surrounded by a general atmosphere of public protest led to significant amelioration of intellectual-property provisions once considered for inclusion in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). We have had a significant change to our copyright law in the form of the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Act, but managed to stare down the threat to cut users off from the internet.

New Zealanders' relief after that partial victory quickly turned to fresh concern when the proposed terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement seemed likely to include similar terms to those batted away in ACTA.

The ongoing and multifaceted copyright story hits a significant number of hot-buttons — from New Zealanders' concern for freedom to be entertained as they wish, to the question of autonomy for our laws in the face of pressure from the US government and Hollywood and the spectre of a handicap to newer local industries in movies and music at the expense of favourable terms for NZ's traditionally traded commodities.

Computerworld has been covering the various strands of the issue for a decade. In 2003, then deputy editor Mark Broatch raised concern in a column on prospects of a US free-trade agreement, entitled "Trading Away".

"Free trade has benefits, to economies and individual manufacturers and exporters, but there are, well, trade-offs," Broatch wrote.

"To sign a deal with the US, the trade-off of note to IT lies in intellectual property practices. The US in particular ... has been keen on strengthening copyright protections and increasing the term for which they apply, its own much-criticised Digital Millennium Copyright Act being the ultimate vehicle."


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