Hollywood Pushes for Internet Censorship in New Zealand

The major movie studios is pushing for website blocking in New Zealand. They want ISPs to block filesharing websites as part of the upcoming copyright reform process.

Copyright reform is coming to the people of New Zealand. The New Zealand government has confirmed that the reform is set to take place in April of next year.

Major foreign movie studios represented by the New Zealand Screen Association did not waste any time in pushing for what they want: website blocking. From Radio NZ:

New Zealand Screen Association managing director Matthew Cheetham said the rights and revenue of rights holders were “gradually being whittled away”. The association represents film and television content and distribution companies in New Zealand, including major Hollywood companies.

“In New Zealand piracy is almost an accepted thing, because no one’s really doing anything about it, because no one actually can do anything about it.” Mr Cheetham said.

He said the law should allow for websites responsible for illegal file-sharing to be blocked, as is the law in Australia, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

“If the site is infringing [a court] can order internet service providers to block access to that site. Forty-two countries around the world have recognised that blocking access when it’s carefully defined is a perfectly legitimate avenue for rights holders to protect their rights.”

That would not solve piracy issues, but would be a start, said Mr Cheetham.

He said Pirate Bay was the 22nd most popular website in New Zealand, as listed last week. “It’s an indication that piracy continues to be a major problem here. The easiest thing would be to block access to that site.”

As the article points out, New Zealand is one of a handful of countries that adopted a so-called three strikes law. Such a law basically allows any record label or movie studio to simply accuse someone of copyright infringement. After three strikes, fines can be levied among other things.

The law itself is very controversial. It was passed in 2011. Leaked diplomatic cables show that the law was literally pushed, bought, and paid for by the US. The leaked diplomatic cable even contained a cost rundown of the lobbying effort that was involved at the time. Fast forward to 2013, word came out that the law would be put to the test. By the end of the month, the first conviction was handed down and a student ended up being fined $616.57 – far less than the major foreign record labels sought which was $2,700.

The major corporations did push for the government to take over the cost of handing out the notices. Each notice costs them $25, but to date, that movement was never successful.

Still, the major corporations got what they wanted and now they want more. This certainly pushes the idea that major foreign movie studios and record labels will never be satisfied. Every time they got what they want, they return for more laws and more restrictions.

The news follows word from last month that Sky TV is asking the courts to force ISPs to engage in Internet censorship. From InternetNZ:

“This is an extreme step in response to a problem of limited scale, and one that is unlikely to achieve the stated goal,” says InternetNZ Chief Executive Jordan Carter.

“InternetNZ cares about the rights of Kiwi Internet users. We are taking an interest here to make sure that the fundamental openness of the Internet in New Zealand is not hampered.

“Site blocking works against the very nature of the Internet. Site blocking is very easily evaded by people with the right skills or tools. Those who are deliberate pirates will be able to get around site blocking without difficulty.

“If blocking is ordered, it risks driving content piracy further underground, with the help of easily-deployed and common Internet tools. This could well end up making the issues that Sky are facing even harder to police in the future.

“The introduction of legal, easy to use streaming like Neon from Sky, or Lightbox, or Netflix and more, makes piracy less desirable over time. We encourage Sky and others to focus on getting their content online and easy to see and pay for, rather than going down avenues like site blocking.

At the time, InternetNZ said they are looking at the case further to determine whether or not the courts even have the legal power to compel ISPs to block filesharing websites.

The criticism that website blocking is unworkable certainly has merit. Back in 2011 during the great PROTECT IP Act debates in the US, I explored the various technical measures that existed at the time to thwart such censorship. The methods are many and account for a number of ways that ISPs could employ censorship in the first place.

What is surprising in all of this is that major corporations are still pushing for Internet censorship in the first place. Given all the evidence that this is an unworkable solution, it seems evidence and reasoning means little to them. If this push moves ahead, New Zealand may find out what it is like to have a Kiwi version of the SOPA debates.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.


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