Editorial: Fine hardly a deterrent

18:19, Jan 31 2013

New Zealand's first fine for file sharing has been issued, and it's . . . underwhelming.

When the three-warning law on the illegal downloading of copyright material (mainly songs) was implemented late in 2011, a shiver went up and down the country as parents warned their offspring to stop flogging songs unless they had a spare $15,000.

To which of course said offspring expressed surprise, because to them such downloading was as illegal as leaving their clothes all over the bedroom floor.

It came as no surprise then that (usually young) people carried on sharing files that weren't really theirs to share, and that even two warnings weren't enough to stop them.

So a year after the law was introduced, the Copyright Tribunal has held its first hearing and has just released its first finding.

And despite the pleadings of the unnamed downloader ("I did the first one but didn't know then it was illegal, the second one was a mistake and I've no idea who did the third under my name"), the tribunal handed down its first $15,000 fine.


Except it didn't. The fine it dished out was $616.57. Yes, 57 cents.

Now I know the $15,000 is a maximum, but you'd think the tribunal's first fine would have been designed to send a message.

But $616.57? Sure, it makes the guilty party's three songs pretty expensive, but it's hardly going to stamp fear into the tens of thousands of others still downloading illegally.

Especially as they receive two warnings first. And there's no public shaming. Why the guilty party here hasn't been named here is mystifying.

Also mystifying is the lack of mileage the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ), which brought the action, is making on this. You'd think it would be front and centre publicising the finding. There's not even anything on its website.

The breakdown of the fine is interesting - $200 in costs to the tribunal and $50 to RIANZ, $6.57 for the cost of the songs, and $360 as a deterrent. That's just $120 per infringement. Not a huge deterrent.

The internet services providers have sent out thousands of warning emails, so the tribunal will have plenty of hearings to come. Its first fine won't do anything to stem that flow.

The Timaru Herald