Patchy eye on pirates

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 05:00 08/12/2013
Rihanna

EASING: Record labels are easing up on music piracy.

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The ''Skynet'' streamlined justice system for music piracy is starting to gather dust after record labels decided to haul fewer music pirates in front of the Copyright Tribunal.

Recorded Music New Zealand general counsel Kristin Bowman said the industry body had turned down the volume, citing the high cost of bringing cases to the tribunal and frustration over the "insufficient' penalties handed down to offenders.

Seventeen internet users have been pinged by the tribunal since the first ruling in January, but it is three months since the last judgment.

The maximum award the tribunal can hand down for illegal file-sharing is $15,000, but the highest penalty to date is $914.35. Recorded Music NZ, which includes the body previously known as the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (Rianz), has repeatedly been knocked back by the tribunal after seeking awards of several thousands of dollars.

The awards were not sufficient deterrent to the individuals involved "or the marketplace as a whole", Bowman said.

She said there was another case pending and one more in the pipeline. But for the time being it only intended to initiate new actions if they involved high levels of infringement or other circumstances that might encourage the tribunal to be "a little gutsier".

"To take a case right through the tribunal process is quite expensive . . . so we want to be really judicious about what ones we choose [to pursue]. There is no point taking the same type of case constantly and getting the same result."

Bowman said the organisation would continue to send infringement notices to internet users who it caught pirating music, however. The gas might go on again in future and if it saw any increase in piracy it would be "all on", she said.

Despite the shortcomings, the three-strikes regime deserved a "gold star" for encouraging a plethora of legal online music

services to set up shop in New Zealand, she said. "We have 20-plus legal services here; we are a market that has all the big names."

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Paul Brislen welcomed Recorded Music NZ's changed approach, noting those that had been caught in its net so far had generally only been accused of illegally sharing a few songs. "I think they are doing the right thing pulling back," he said.

Some enforcement actions should never have been brought, including one against a man who claimed he was a soldier serving in Afghanistan at the time his internet account was used to illegally share Rihanna and Hot Chelle tracks, he said.

Brislen said he had no sympathy for people who continued to pirate music, given the proliferation of legal alternatives, and people who still stole music were just being lazy. But he believed the size of the awards the tribunal had imposed were "about right".

The regime had never caught anyone illegally sharing New Zealand music, even though one of the justifications for the streamlined justice regime had been the need to protect the domestic industry from large-scale infringements, he said.

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While lauding the efforts the recording industry to make music easier to buy online, Brislen said the movie industry, which has not so far made use of the "Skynet" regime, had lagged behind.

In the past, internet users might have illegally watched movies and television for free by visiting sites such as Pirate Bay. Now many were paying to do so by disguising their internet address and subscribing to legal overseas services such as Netflix.

"On the one hand that is great, because the artist is getting paid something, but you still have to commit a type of fraud to give them money. It is high time [producers] realised there are huge gains in online delivery mechanisms and they should get with the programme," he said.

- Sunday Star Times

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