Illegal download law fails

A new law introducing fines of up to $15,000 for people who illegally download movies and music from the internet has so far proven ineffective.

Internet usage dropped by about 10 per cent the week the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act 2011, aimed at a practice known as bittorrenting, came into effect on September 1.

Files containing movies and music are spread between different computers on the internet and bittorrent software is used to find the file parts and reassemble them. Some files, such as the open source Linux operating system, have no copyright, while files of music, movies and television shows belong to copyright holders.

The new law requires copyright holders to monitor bittorrenting services and send copyright infringement notices to internet service providers (ISPs), who can identify offenders through their internet protocol (IP) address.

The infringement notices must follow a set format and include a $25 fee but none of the internet service providers spoken to by the Waikato Times have received any that complied with the law.

Any ISP account holder caught being used to download the files can have their internet connection terminated after three infringements, and the account holder fined.

This would make the providers of free internet services liable for actions of anyone who logs into their networks.

But one 26 year-old Hamilton man – who did not want to be named – said he and other tech-savvy users had found ways around the legislation.

"If you really want to get around the law you could download an IP scrambler or hider which can change your IP address. You can also use a proxy, which re-routes all your traffic through a server overseas so they can't trace it."

The problem, Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand chief executive Paul Brislen says, is an out-of-date distribution system in which some television shows and films air in New Zealand months or even years after first release overseas.

Mr Brislen said he downloaded the latest episodes of Breaking Bad and Doctor Who after they had screened overseas because he couldn't wait for them to screen in New Zealand.

He'd happily pay to download the episodes, but there is currently no mechanism to let him do that.

Neither Telecom nor Vodafone New Zealand could provide any information around the level of infringements since the introduction of the law.

Orcon chief executive Scott Bartlett said his company had noticed a fall in New Zealand internet traffic in the first week.

"We have definitely seen a decrease of a little bit more than 10 per cent in relation to people using the internet.

"I don't think 10 per cent would be illegal traffic. There's a lack of understanding out there and it is having an impact. The people that are really infringing copyright, they are the ones that are getting around it."

He agreed with Mr Brislen's position.

"People want to pay for content and they can't get it. To me that's a bit perverse."

Inspire Net spokesman Dave Mill said copyright holders were not following the proper process.

"We're currently rejecting all automated notice emails we receive, and sending back information about how we're asking for notices to be submitted as covered under the law's regulations.

"Every notice we receive, we reply with a standard email which includes full instructions for how a rights holder can set up an account with us to lodge notices and be billed the $25 fee. No one has done this yet."

Mr Mill said it was probably too hard and expensive for copyright holders to follow the process outlined by the law.

"The rights holders aren't fully up to date with the new New Zealand laws."

Stu Fleming, who runs WIC NZ Ltd, said his company had received one allegation of copyright infringement via bittorrent.

TV and movies are not Reuben Austin's poison – the Hamiltonian downloads up to four albums a week through file sharing and the legislation hasn't changed his habits.

"I had a bit of a blitz on downloads last week because there wasn't anything on my shelves or hard drive that I really wanted to listen to, and I was in the mood to try new things. I may have downloaded between two and three dozen albums recently."

Mr Austin, 25, who works in retail, says he is willing to fight the law in court if necessary.

Downloading music from other people's music collections was like buying second-hand albums, he said.

"Pat Benatar, Dire Straits and Saxon have never received a cent from me, even though I have a number of LPs from each," he said. "Should I be prosecuted for that? The logic is much the same."

Mr Austin said he knew it was a cliched excuse, but downloading fostered a "try before you buy" mentality.

"I paid 60 (NZ$100) for a sweatshirt of a favourite band I discovered by blindly downloading an EP. Since postage was so high I made the most of it and got other stuff by bands on the same label too, who I had also downloaded for free.

"If I hear of an international band touring here soon I will often download a recent album of theirs. If I like it I will then spend $60 on a ticket, the same in gas to get up to Auckland, beers at the bar, maybe $45 on an overpriced T-shirt. The band are getting most of the door take and the cost of printing T-shirts is minimal. I am sure they wouldn't begrudge me the $2 of lost income from not buying the album in the first place."

InternetNZ, which opposed the legislation, has established a website to help people understand it: 3strikes.net.nz/ for more.

Waikato Times