Government wavers on web cut-offs

Last updated 10:59 25/09/2008

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The Government has issued mixed messages on whether it might freeze controversial new copyright law that could lead to customers being disconnected from the internet.

Industry bodies including the Computer Society and InternetNZ united to slam an amendment to the Copyright Act passed by Parliament in April, voicing most concern over a clause that could require them to cut off people's Internet connections if they had repeatedly been involved in copyright breaches.

They described that as "a deeply flawed law that undermines fundamental rights and simply will not work".

Paul Moreno, a spokesman for Justice Minister Judith Tizard, said a delay to regulations required to put the cut-off clause into force was being considered, and that the delay might be "endless".

"Judith is of the mind that Internet access is almost a human right now, similar to water and electricity."

But Ms Tizard then appeared to toughen her stance, stressing that the Government was concerned to protect copyright holders.

"I assume that internet service providers are not happy to host illegal copies of work that infringe copyright and that they share the view that New Zealand's creative practitioners deserve to have copyright protected in order that they can make a fair return on their work," she said.

Ms Tizard would not say whether the intention was that the cut-off threat should apply only to people who had been repeatedly convicted of copyright offences, or to those who had been accused of infringements by bodies such as the Recording Industry Association – indicating it had been left deliberately unclear.

"The intention of this provision is to provide a framework for the ISP industry and rights holders to develop an efficient and effective mechanism that is workable for both parties."

Telecommunications Carriers Forum chief executive Ralph Chivers said if the former definition was used, that might be one solution.

But Recording Industry Association chief executive Campbell Smith said that would not be acceptable as it would require copyright holders to sue infringers to prove their guilt. "That is just impractical and ridiculous. I don't think that is what was intended."

Instead, ISPs should cut off customers who infringed copyright after notifications from rights holders, he said.

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- The Dominion Post

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