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Digital copyright — the world starts to worry

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

In August 2004 this reporter tackled then Culture and Heritage Minister Judith Tizard on the question of a trade-off of intellectual-property-based industries against traditional exports in pursuit of a possible free-trade agreement with the US. "MED will be working with other agencies to coordinate New Zealand's regulatory [environment] with those of our major trading partners," a statement on the then Labour-led government's strategic priorities had said.

"Basically what we're saying is that we want to have as much market integration as possible," Tizard told Computerworld. "But we should only look at moving towards the same rules and regulations where it's in New Zealand's interest."

On copyright law specifically, she said: "We probably don't want to move too far ahead of anyone, but if there are issues that are in NZ's interest, we will fight hard to make sure we maintain those.

"We've made a commitment to go back to users and owners [of copyright material], so any legislation will be widely debated," Tizard promised.

The matter of copyright came to a head in 2008, in the dying days of the Labour-led government, when the Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Bill was tabled. This imposed requirements on internet service providers to police copyright infringement and, in Section 92A, required ISPs to have a policy of terminating the internet accounts of persistent offenders.

The Bill was passed, but Section 92A was held in abeyance, to be eventually repealed by the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Act in 2011. There was still discontent among ISPs at having to process complaints of infringement and issue notices to the alleged offender.

Tizard caused another minor stir when at an unrelated event in 2008 (the launch of former Computerworld reporter Keith Newman's book on NZ internet history) she said internet access could possibly be considered a human right.

Some attendees at the event called Computerworld anxious to know if we had recorded audio of Tizard's words (we had).

The first hints of ACTA were meanwhile emerging, with Wikileaks' disclosure of a discussion paper towards such a treaty. "There will be more than one opportunity for public comment on the agreement's provisions," said NZ negotiators George Wardle of the Ministry of Economic Development in June 2008. The government did, indeed, request public submissions, but at that date the negotiations were still at an early stage and the detail was still secret.

Further leaks of the ACTA text and limited official release in April 2009 sparked concern that the account termination provision — referred to in a footnote on a leaked draft — was on the table.

The protest movement culminated in a conference, known as PublicACTA, held in Wellington in April 2010, shortly before the round of ACTA negotiations in that city. PublicACTA produced the Wellington Declaration, which analysed the detrimental effects of the draft treaty and made a plea for opening up of the secret negotiations and draft texts.

 

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