Copyright backdown ruled out by Tizard

01:43, Jan 31 2009

The Government has scotched speculation it will back down on a controversial change to copyright law as a split emerged among its opponents.

The change is intended to force internet service providers and copyright owners to work out between themselves whether customers have repeatedly infringed copyright and oblige ISPs to cut off those people's internet access.

The move comes amid accusations an international copyright treaty New Zealand is helping form is being kept secret.

Consumer Affairs Minister Judith Tizard confirmed she had agreed to a four-month delay in the enactment of a regulation that would bring section 92A of the Copyright Act into force.

But she says the clause will become law on February 28 and the delay is to allow time for an agreement on its implementation.

Representatives from six ICT industry bodies which jointly campaigned against the law change have been invited to meet with Mr Tizard, Communications Minister David Cunliffe and copyright holders today.

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The Telecommunications Carriers Forum appears set to break ranks with InternetNZ by agreeing to seek a compromise that would see the clause take affect.

Chief executive Ralph Chivers says that though its members had "a fundamental problem with that clause as it stands", the TCF never expected the law change to be cancelled.

"We see those issues we raised as having to be addressed in the fullness of time, but what we have agreed is to find a practical way to make this all work.

"We have already had a meeting along those lines and will be having a workshop with rights holder organisations in the near future with a view to developing one of our codes of practice to deal with the implementation of this particular piece of the act.

"I think both parties are prepared to be quite realistic and pragmatic about what is achievable and necessary. The early engagements I have had with rights holder organisations have been very encouraging in terms of the collaborative approach they intend to take."

InternetNZ president Keith Davidson would not comment ahead of today's meeting. He has argued S92A "undermines the fundamental right of 'innocent until proven guilty"'.

Computer Society chief executive Paul Matthews had a similar opinion: "Copyright infringement is wrong, but it needs to be proven first and the penalty kept in proportion."

Recording Industry Association chief executive Campbell Smith has said it would be "impractical and ridiculous" for copyright owners to prove copyright infringers' guilt in the courts.

The Economic Development Ministry is helping negotiate the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – an international treaty that seeks to establish a common standard for enforcing intellectual property rights.

Technology website CNET reported that two US interest groups had filed a lawsuit to gain access to the agreement, which they claim has been negotiated in secret.

Ministry official George Wardle says progress has been slow and no agreement has been reached.

The ministry has posted information about ACTA on its website, but "negotiations are being conducted under normal confidentiality practices that apply to trade negotiations." The agreement will target those involved in commercial-scale counterfeiting and piracy, and the public will be consulted before the Government decides whether to sign it, he says.

The Dominion Post