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Confusion over copyright

Last updated 05:00 15/08/2011

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With less than three weeks to go before a controversial "three strikes" regime designed to combat internet piracy comes into effect, confusion is rife over what types of copyright infringements consumers could be pinged for.

The Economic Development Ministry said last month that the new "streamlined" enforcement provisions, under which pirates could be brought before the Copyright Tribunal and fined up to $15,000, were intended to apply only to internet piracy conducted using file-sharing protocols such as BitTorrent.

But Telecommunications Carriers Forum chief executive David Stone said there appeared to be nothing in the legislation that restricted the new enforcement provisions to peer-to-peer file sharing services and it was advising internet providers to forward all valid infringement notices to customers, regardless of the technology involved in the infringement.

NZFact, the New Zealand branch of the United States Motion Picture Association, has meanwhile broken its silence over the steep fees rights holders will need to pay internet providers to forward infringement notices to customers, issuing a statement that accuses the Economic Development Ministry of misrepresenting its position on the fees and demands a retraction.

The three-strikes regime is designed to make it cheaper and easier for rights holders to punish pirates.

But in response to a query from InternetNZ, the ministry said they would not be able to use the regime to threaten or punish internet users who breached copyright – perhaps unknowingly – by watching pirated videos or listening to pirated music by accessing streaming media when surfing the web.

While such copyright infringements will remain illegal, it said that in these situations rights holders would need to go through the courts to enforce their rights. Peer-to-peer file sharing, which it said would be subject to the three-strikes regime, is generally the preserve of experienced broadband users and not most "mums and dads".

Stone said it would be up to the courts to try to interpret the intent of Parliament in the event of any dispute about how the legislation was meant to apply, but believed internet providers would be taking a risk if they ignored any complaints from rights holders. "My understanding is the law is designed to catch all forms of illegal file sharing, not just BitTorrent or peer-to-peer. We are going to get notices from rights holders we are going to have to respond to – that is the bottom line."

NZFact has hinted the issue may be academic and movie studios could shun the three-strikes regime and take other measures to enforce their rights while internet providers are allowed to charge rights holders a $25 fee for relaying infringement notices to customers.

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It said a claim by the ministry in a policy document that it had recommended a $2 fee was wrong and it had asked for a correction.

Chief executive Tony Eaton said it believed the fee should be no more than "a matter of cents".

"As the Government has committed to a six month trial period at a $25 cost per notice, we are now reviewing our options."

- The Dominion Post


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