Authors appeal for net 'licensing fee'

Internet users could be required to pay a licensing fee to access content online under a suggested amendment to a controversial copyright bill.

The Society of Authors says the Copyright (Infringing File Shar-ing) Amendment Bill does not compensate for the majority of illegal file sharing – which occurs without the copyright owner's knowledge.

The bill, currently before the commerce select committee, requires internet service providers to issue up to three infringement notices to alleged offenders at the request of copyright holders.

It enables the Copyright Tribunal to hear complaints and award penalties of up to $15,000, and allows copyright owners to seek suspension of an internet account for up to six months through the district court.

In its submission to the committee the society requested that the Government consider introducing a blanket licensing regime to ensure rights holders were compensated for infringements, including undetected offences.

Society chief executive Maggie Tarver says there is a licensing regime for paper copying, under which tertiary institutions such as universities pay a licence fee so they can photocopy texts.

Creating a licensing scheme for online content would be more of a challenge and no model has emerged, but one option could be to charge internet users a licence fee.

"Something would have to be constructed and it would be difficult because you're not dealing with only institutions and companies, you're dealing with individuals and you're dealing with ISPs as well and you're dealing with international [parties].

"Britain has certainly been exploring this."

Jordan Carter, InternetNZ policy director, says it has no particular position but a licensing regime might be a viable model "for collecting society's dues" when copyright holders are unable to make money through traditional sales channels.

If copyright owners do not know about infringements it will be difficult to fairly distribute the income generated through the scheme, he says.

The onus is on copyright holders to show file sharing is harming them.

"Despite all the fuss about file sharing the total amount of money that the music and movie industries are making is going up. Do they need a new source of revenue that's provided by some sort of compulsory tithe on every citizen?"

Ms Tarver says the society is arguing for literature to be included in the scope of the bill, which focuses on illegal file sharing and its effect on the music, film and software industries.

Authors and their books have not traditionally been the victims of illegal file sharing but that is changing with the rise of e-readers and e-books.

"The bill has to look to the future."

The Law Society has suggested those whose internet accounts are suspended under the bill should be prevented from signing up with any ISP for the six months of the suspension.

Mr Carter says InternetNZ does not support termination, and "the idea of creating some Stalinist blacklist where people are banned from the internet is ridiculous".