Efforts to broker an agreement between ISPs and the recording industry on how to apply a controversial change to copyright law are teetering on the brink after both parties expressed severe misgivings over a possible compromise.
Internet users who download pirated movies over peer-to-peer networks or upload copyrighted material to websites would be among those who risked having their internet access cut off under a "four strikes and you're out" proposal put forward by the Telecommunications Carriers Forum (TCF).
The voluntary code sets out one way in which ISPs could enact a controversial change to copyright law that comes into force at the end of the month. ISPs must then cut off internet access "in appropriate circumstances" to customers who repeatedly infringe copyright.
The draft code envisages ISPs would act on complaints from copyright holders, issuing customers with "education notices" that, if not successfully challenged, could be followed by a "final warning" and then termination of their internet account.
Recording Industry Association chief executive Campbell Smith says the code is "inadequate" and does not go far enough toward protecting the interests of copyright holders.
He says it would be too easy for internet users to dispute piracy allegations under procedures set out by the forum. "Then the process stops dead and we are concerned about that."
Mr Smith also objects to the forum's suggestion that copyright holders should meet ISPs' administration costs for handling infringement notices.
"We will continue to talk to them about our concerns and hopefully we will see some changes made."
InternetNZ executive director Keith Davidson says the rights of internet users are at risk and he has urged people to make their concerns known.
"Confidentiality of an ISP's customer details and unhindered access to the internet for families and businesses are under threat," he said. "ISPs will become unprotected enforcers for the entertainment industries, and also on behalf of anyone purporting to be a rights holder who may have a malicious axe to grind."
Businesses, schools and universities would be put in the position of policing the use of the internet by their staff and students.
Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Ernie Newman says it would be unreasonable for ISPs to be asked to meet the cost of administering enforcement notices.
The association has proposed that businesses and other large organisations might voluntarily register details of their internet accounts with copyright bodies so infringement notices could be sent to them direct, easing the burden on ISPs and reducing the risk that customers might be disconnected because warnings got lost in the system.
Industry sources suggest that if the gaps cannot be papered over, ISPs may choose to comply with the copyright amendment by stipulating that their policy was to deal with accusations of copyright infringement by customers "case by case", or by referring allegations to the police.
TCF chief executive Ralph Chivers says this is an approach some ISPs have taken in overseas jurisdictions when faced with similar legislation. But he remains keen to seek a deal acceptable to copyright owners, saying there is a "wider, more strategic issue" emerging that concerns the relationship between content providers and network providers.
He has suggested ISPs help copyright owners charge customers for access to films and music. This would be as part of a "mutually satisfactory commercial relationships that deal with their issues and ours".
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