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Digital copyright — the world starts to worry

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

Drafts were eventually released for proper debate and ACTA was signed without the internet termination clause and some of the other contentious provisions.

On the New Zealand front, the National-led government tabled the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Bill, which put in place a three-stage system of notices to offenders, culminating in a hearing before the Copyright Tribunal and a maximum fine of $15,000.

The Labour opposition agreed to compromise; passing, but holding in suspension, the internet cut-off provision. The final debate was widely commented on as demonstrating the lack of knowledge of the internet by some MPs. National MP Jonathan Young compared the internet to the insidious and powerful Skynet computer system in the Terminator movie, earning the legislation an enduring nickname as "The Skynet law".

In the event, there have so far been few cases taken through the full three strikes and resulting fines of less than four figures.

When the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was mooted (and again some drafts were leaked) it became clear that US negotiators were taking another shot at inserting provisions disquietingly similar to some they had failed to push into ACTA. TPPA negotiators assiduously denied any link between the two in April 2010 but comments in our online article showed considerable scepticism on the part of Computerworld readers.

In November 2011 Trade Minister Tim Groser sought to dismiss fears of a re-litigation of ACTA; but subsequent leaks of draft position documents reinforced public wariness.

They sparked further fears that even temporary copies of data in caches, an integral feature of the way the internet works, might be subject to regulation.

Local interested parties have kept a presence and made their opinions felt at stakeholder events in New Zealand and overseas.

TPPA involves an increased list of countries, now including the Japanese — whom local IP lawyer Rick Shera characterised as "ardent intellectual-property maximalists". Japan has been admitted while negotiations continue, despite Groser's insistence in 2011 that the then negotiating parties would firmly decide the "dress-code" before opening the door to others.

Meanwhile, a growing body of opinion internationally favours a complete re-examination of the principles of copyright law to cope with a digital age. This includes InternetNZ which, in a "discussion starter" for the 2011 election, commented: "All stakeholders stand to benefit from a 21st century copyright framework that supports the creative industries without handicapping the continued evolution of societal benefit.

"The Government should initiate an evidence-based review of copyright law, starting from first principles, which resets the balance of rights for an internet-enabled world," it adds.

We're waiting.


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