Thursday, February 19, 2009

Only in NZ - Guilty by Accusation

It is hard to believe but true that in New Zealand a new law is about to come into force that will reverse in one single swipe all that democracy and justice stands for, that is the right to innocence until proven guilty.

Now I am not here to defend the actions of people who download copyrighted material from the internet. Nor do I suggest that the action of downloading copyrighted material should be seen as anything other than illegal. When all is said and done copying copyrighted material is indeed a criminal offence. As a hobby I manufacture and sell 3d models on the internet, prices range from $5 - $10usd and I make maybe $3000usd pa profit from their sale. These products are protected under NZ copyright law, international copyright law and are also protected against copyright infringements by the host internet retailers. To date none of my 3d products have been made available on sites to download for free but other manufacturers of similar 3d products would be well aware of the ease with which their products are available to download for free (do a torrent search for Hongyu and you will see what I mean). My point here is to highlight that downloading files can financially hurt the hobbyist as well as the megastars and big corporations. For the record I am happy to confess to having downloaded copyrighted material from the internet.

But on February 28th when Section 29 (a to d) of the Copyright Act comes into force in New Zealand it will compel ISP’s by law to terminate the internet connection of any repeat copyright infringer without warning and without having to prove that the downloaded file(s) were copyrighted material or without giving the accused the right to defend their actions – GUILT UPON ACCUSATION. Hey fair enough I hear you say, the amount of material some people download is taking the piss right? Make no mistake here, all you would have to do is download two or three copyrighted images from Google Images and you have broken the law. Can you imagine that? You grab 3 images of Jessica Alba looking as hot as she does and you are now a law breaker. Let’s put this into context. If you speed in your car on any NZ road the police must prove conclusively that you have indeed speeded. They have a number of sophisticated tools at their disposal to do so which means they are able to determine your guilt pretty much without question however you are still allowed the right of appeal against any charges and punishments issued. Innocent until proven guilty right? Let’s put it another way. Let’s imagine you are a truck driver and you murder a prostitute (Thanks Jezza). The police and the feds hunt you down and eventually arrest you. Even though you are a sick fck who deserves to be incarcerated for your actions you as the accused are still entitled to a fair trial in court and to be judged by a jury of 12 good men and women. Once again innocent until proven guilty right? Democracy in action right? So why is it that someone who downloads copyrighted material from the internet is not subject to these same core principles on which our democratic society is justly based?
You could in return argue that infringing copyrights is a minor offense and by compelling ISP’s to act this way reduces the potential burden on the justice system, the state and on tax payers. That would be a fair argument for sure but it still does not change the fact that ISP’s must now act as judge, jury and executioner. Once we start down this path where does it end? If you buy a CD from a CD store and copy the contents to your PC, IPod and PSP will the CD store be compelled to ban you from entering their outlets? Even worse
if you buy a magazine from a newsagent and then take scans of the images will the newsagent then responsible for enforcing any punishments against you as decreed by law?

The real problem with this law is twofold:-
One, it is very poorly designed legislation that is unworkable and punishes only the little guy.
Two, it does not actually address the issue of copyright infringement.
Surely this law would make much more sense if it was targeting the people who actually make the files available to infringe in the first place.

For more information go to

I hope this post generates some responses from you, our loyal viewers. I would be very interested to hear your points of view.

PS. Whats with the blacked out image? This image has been taken up by the global internet masses as a way of protesting the stupidity of this law. Even comedian Steven Fry is twittering about it!

1 comment:

Spankermatic said...

Hear hear Xenoba - I totally agree. Typical bloody bureaucratic nonsense. Its the good old "we know nothing about a particular topic, but we'll make a law to govern it anyway"

What a load of crap - the first person to get falsely done by this law (if the ISP's actually ever do action it) will take the government and the ISP to the cleaners in court.