Rianz piracy-accused Telecom customers

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 15:15 04/09/2012

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The three people who the Recording Industry Association intends to haul in front of the Copyright Tribunal for illegally downloading music are all Telecom customers, the telco has revealed.

The Justice Ministry confirmed the association (Rianz) had asked the Copyright Tribunal to punish three people who had been sent their third and final "enforcement notices" for allegedly pirating music over peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, under the so-called "Skynet" law.

Telecom spokeswoman Jo Jalfon said the customers might be required to attend hearings at the Copyright Tribunal. "Telecom takes the issue very seriously and will continue to work with both the Justice Ministry and Rianz to comply with their obligations under the law," she said.

"This is a relatively new regime, and for customers proving just who has infringed copyright via file sharing networks within a household can be a challenge. Often the account holder is a parent but the person using the file sharing technology to upload or download material illegally is a child or even a guest."

She said Telecom was conscious of the need to educate all internet users and would be reminding customers of their legal obligations "as well as offering to support the three customers in question".

Telecom launched an Android Music Store two months ago which allowed customers to legally purchase songs and albums from a catalogue of over a million songs, she said.

"Feedback from our customers is that online stores such as ours provide them with certainty that what they are downloading, or other household members, is perfectly legal," Jalfon said.

Greg Hay, a spokesman for Rianz' public relations company Pead PR, said it was able to confirm a claim had been lodged with the Copyright Tribunal under the Copyright Act, but it would not comment until a ruling had been made.

Rianz represents several record labels, including giants EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner. It had previously limited itself to sending more than 2700 warnings to alleged pirates.

There was surprise in July when it emerged the association had chosen not to take action against any of the first three internet users who had received third and final "enforcement notices" under the three-strikes regime.

But Justice Ministry spokesman Nathan Green confirmed Rianz had bared its teeth by making an example of three others who had received their final notices.

"Three applications for an order requiring payment to a rights owner under Section 122(O) of the Copyright Act 1994 have been received from the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand," he said.

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The chairwoman of the Copyright Tribunal, Victoria University law professor Susy Frankel, would get details of the three accused from their internet providers, check that the applications had been filled out correctly, and would then determine the way forward, he said.

As yet, the ministry had no details of the accused or what they were alleged to have pirated, he said. Rick Shera, a specialist in intellectual property issues at Auckland law firm Lowndes Jordan, said it was to be expected the law would be used.

He hoped the facts of the cases would be made public so it would become clear what processes the tribunal would follow. However, he speculated the tribunal might exercise discretion in deciding whether to name people and the details of what they had pirated, if they were found to have infringed copyright.

"If it was a granny who got through to 'strike three' because her teenage grandchildren had been using her wireless connection and it was quite clear she hadn't personally infringed, you can imagine the penalty might be lower and the tribunal might say it was inappropriate to reveal the identity of the alleged infringer."

The tribunal can impose "fines" of up to $15,000 on people for pirating music or movies over the internet, though the payments are technically awards rather than fines as they are paid to the owners of the material, rather than the Crown.

Penalties on that scale are expected to be reserved for people who cause big financial losses to studios, for example by pirating and sharing films before their public release.

Former justice minister Simon Power said last year that the tribunal would be able to consider whether requiring offenders only reimburse rights holders for the $275 in fees they have to pay to bring a case to the tribunal, plus "appropriate compensation", might in some cases be sufficient deterrent.

Labour Party communications spokeswoman Clare Curran said she trusted the tribunal to make the right decisions. But she was concerned the Government might buckle under pressure from the music and film industries to lower the fees they need to pay internet providers to send infringement notices to customers. Those fees are now being reviewed by the Economic Development Ministry.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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