Concern over new downloading laws

Opponents of an illegal-downloading law that comes into force next month fear it could see people disconnected from the internet without proof they are breaking copyright rules.

On February 28, a new section of the Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act 2008 will come into force.

It says internet service providers (ISPs) must "reasonably implement a policy that provides for termination, in appropriate circumstances, of the account with that internet service provider of a repeat infringer".

Supporters say it provides a framework for ISPs to crack down on illegal downloading of music, videos and other intellectual property on the internet.

However, director of the Creative Freedom Foundation Bronwyn Holloway-Smith said the foundation could see ISPs disconnecting hospitals, businesses and schools without the burden of proving an infringement.

"It doesn't give much guidance around what constitutes something being an infringement or what happens in the situation where there may be a virus on someone's computer downloading things without them knowing. It puts the onus on the ISP to decide if people are guilty or not," she said.

Nor did the legislation deal with the issue of a few rogue users breaking the law on a single connection used by many.

The foundation was opposed to illegal downloading, but legislation needed to be "much more comprehensive" and focus on educating people about its evils.

President of InternetNZ Keith Davidson said the law put a lot of pressure on ISPs to be "judge and jury and executioner".

"It's a bit bizarre when you consider that New Zealand Post aren't held to be accountable for control of what they distribute in the mail," he said.

This month, the Telecommunications Carriers Forum will release a draft code it has drawn up in an attempt to iron out the vague points of the legislation.

Chief executive Ralph Chivers said the code would go out to ISPs and other interested parties for consultation.

"We are not exactly thrilled about the legislation; we think it's so open and vague and is not very clear about what it means at all," he said.

"What is infringement, what constitutes repeat infringement and what standard of evidence is needed?"

The draft code proposed a system whereby people were warned several times before their connection was terminated.

Similar warnings would be provided for libraries, businesses and other organisations telling them they needed to stop the copyright infringement.

Sworn evidence would need to be provided to a "standard that could be submitted to a court".

One person directly affected by illegal downloading is Ben Campbell, bassist with Christchurch band Atlas.

"In my early days when we were selling 60,000 records, an 8 percent mechanical royalty on retail sales would add up to a decent end. Sales are down over 50 percent in less than a decade," he said.

Campbell said the law was a "step in the right direction" but the industry needed to "revolutionise" the way music was sold in order to prosper.

The Recording Industry Association has come out in support of the legislation.

Chief executive Campbell Smith said it would not be a matter of "saying we have found an infringement and believe there's evidence and your internet's been cut off".

There would be warnings telling people what they were doing was wrong and giving them a chance to dispute the fact they had infringed copyright, Smith said.

The Press