New Zealand Passes Three Strikes Law

Is merely accusing someone of a copyright transgression enough proof to convict someone of copyright infringement? As far as New Zealand is concerned, it apparently is thanks to a recently passed copyright bill.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

News has surfaced that the controversial three strikes law (The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Bill) in New Zealand has passed.

Back in 2009, when the three strikes law was first introduced in legislation, there was a major outcry from free speech and internet activists. Many websites, showing solidarity against the controversial law, began blacking out their websites to show that this law amounts to censorship. This is because three accusations would be enough to disconnect and ban someone from the internet. Whether copyright had actually been infringed was beside the point.

In March of 2010, it was revealed that those merely accused of copyright infringement faced up to a $15,000 fine (roughly $10,500 USD) as well. Debate later carried on through the year with supporters arguing that disconnecting someone from the internet wasn’t unusual even though, at the time, France hadn’t even passed their own three strikes law. How many other countries had or considered such laws at the time? South Korea is the only other country that I am aware of which passed a three strikes law in 2009. So, if one were to consider disconnection laws as ‘not unusual’, it would require a very liberal use of the term ‘not unusual’ at best. Meanwhile, those arguing against a three strikes law say that the internet has been very ingrained in our society. One can, for example, pay bills online or do other forms of banking online. In some countries, the internet is what people turn to for political discourse (i.e. commenting on a politician’s blog). Sometimes, people need the internet to attend an online course that is often offered by educational institutes. These are just a few examples of how people sometimes require the internet.

Unfortunately, it seems, the public outcry of the many for the most part was largely ignored (save for some very minor concessions on the law) in favour of the few multi-national corporations as it has passed the third reading.

Tech Liberty has an interesting roundup of all of the developments in the bill at this point. Among the improvements is better privacy for internet account holders (essentially, the ISP is the middleman for sending e-mails back and forth between right holders and the accused). Another improvement is that the accused is now permitted to dispute accusations. The flaws found in the bill is that it’s essentially guilt until proven innocent.

According to AFP, the penalty of $15,000. Whether or not that is on the first accusation or the third is unclear from that article:

The new law allows for penalties of up to NZ$15,000 ($12,000) to be paid to the copyright owner and if this is ineffective offenders can have their Internet account suspended for up to six months.

The unnerving part is the fact that this will no doubt encourage multi-national corporations to pursue such laws in other countries. The excuse of international norms is an old trick used by these corporations to convince lawmakers to pass ill-conceived laws such as the three strikes laws. A three strikes law has been known to be a national security risk by some in the intelligence community because it encourages development of tougher encryption and other forms of communication that is more difficult to trace. This means that monitoring the internet for any potential terrorist activity would be far more difficult for those hoping to stop terrorism over the internet. In short, a three strikes law has the potential to increase the strength of terrorist organizations.

What will be interesting to see is how things play out in New Zealand in the weeks after this law comes in to power. How many false accusations will surface (deliberate or not)? Will a copyright tribunal wind up being gummed up by tens of thousands of disputes whenever rights holders decide to do their copyright dragnets (re: Viacom vs. YouTube)? Will politicians lose support as a result of supporting such a law? Just how bad in practise will this law really be?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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