Media: Mediator may help sort out pirates

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Movie and music industry bosses have pulled back from a hardline approach and are belatedly considering a plan for an independent mediator to oversee protracted complaints between them and telcos.

The idea is that a mediator will be a go-between in protracted internet piracy complaints where copyright holders claim an illegal download, but it is denied by ISP customers.

The mediator plan might ease the tense relationship between the hard-nosed Hollywood-led approach and telcos disgruntled about policing copyright holders' property rights.

Internet freedom protesters marched on Parliament yesterday as record industry boss Campbell Smith and performers representative Anthony Healey talked with telcos about the mediator idea.

Under section 92a of the Copyright Act, which comes into force at the end of the month, ISPs and any company operating a server to staff has to investigate complaints about internet piracy such as illegal downloads of music, TV shows and movies. As it stands, the provider might have to take clients off the web.

Speaking during a break in the meeting, Healey said the mediator idea answered many of the concerns.

Healey - who represents the Australasian Performing Rights Association - said the furore over the new rules was overstated.

The copyright holders group - which is led by Hollywood's movie, TV and record industry - was not out to prosecute a teenager downloading the odd song off the internet, he said.

Ernie Newman - who represents the Telecommunications Users Association - says a "no-compromise" approach from copyright holders has led to New Zealand being one week out from a complex new regime and for the first time considering a legal mediation role.

HOLLYWOOD EYES

Until now, copyright holders - led by Smith of the Recording industry Association of New Zealand - have taken an aggressive approach, which worries Newman.

He says complaints will not be about a homegrown band but will be from electronically monitored equipment run by international media companies.

Local copyright holders were "mouthpieces" for an international campaign that had no interest in how it affected this country, he said.

South Pacific Pictures managing director John Barnett backs anti-piracy moves - he lost out dearly from pirated copies of the movie Sione's Wedding - though not on the internet.

Barnett said the local copyright campaign had not fully explained the issue of piracy to the public. But equally, he says, some vocal critics have misunderstood the situation.

'BETTER THAN HOPED'

The magazine industry took hits in the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures to December 31. John McClintock of the Magazine Publishers' Association said the downward theme had been expected and there was actually surprise at bright spots in the market.

Like most media, many magazines are hurting in the recession but there were encouraging results for some categories.

The independent title Healthy Food Guide was up 14 per cent while ACP's Taste held firm. McClintock noted that the "better than expected" circulation results are distinct from a fall in advertising revenue, which is more directly relevant to the businesses.

One magazine industry source said that circulation falls were due to a retail battle at supermarkets and petrol stations with consumers cutting back on purchases like magazines.

GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS

Women's magazine circulations were mostly down. ACP's weekly Woman's Day fell 11 per cent to 116,202, marginally below the 12 per cent drop for Pacific Magazines' New Idea with 51,121. ACP's monthly Australian Women's Weekly weathered the storm better with a 2.8 per cent fall.

ACP's light and bright Lucky Break made a strong debut with 28,019 circulation, a result achieved without drastic impact on the established player, Pacific Magazines' That's Life.

New Zealand Magazines - part of the APN stable that owns the Herald - emerged from the survey comparatively well, with New Zealand Woman's Weekly down 2.7 per cent.

One source suggested this was because of the substantial subscriber base, which protected the magazine against slower demand on news stands. APN's monthly teen title Creme was up by 12 per cent.

Other notable results include the independent glossy monthly title Mindfood, which debuted strongly with circulation of 13,131, and NZ Rugby World, which was down 22 per cent.

Fairfax titles NZ House and Garden and Cuisine were down 17 per cent and 8 per cent respectively.

WATCHDOG DE-FANGED

With convergence between the media and telco sector, calls to reduce the power of the Commerce Commission raise issues - not least because of the possibility that the commission could increase its role in overseeing the broadcasting industry.

The Government appears to have a receptive ear for corporate gripes about the Commerce Commission.

Commerce Minister Simon Power commented this week that he was looking at the commission with a "fresh eye" and referred obliquely to a radical proposal from Chapman Tripp competition lawyer Grant David, who called for the effective castration of the commission.

Some corporates have also been active in promoting changes - either to the institution or more directly its chairwoman, Paula Rebstock.

Other competition lawyers are sceptical about David's view, saying that he was renowned for strong views and promoting debate.

One warned that lobbying should be viewed with concerns as vested interests try to seize the political advantage of the new business-friendly National Government.

Corporate concern goes beyond telecommunications. Telecom chief executive Paul Reynolds says Telecom is absolutely not lobbying against the commission and insists relations are cordial. It would be surprising if he were involved. In any case, corporates can hardly be blamed for lobbying against regulation - that is what they do.

A toothless Commerce Commission would be good for dominant players in markets.

In the end it is up to Power to scratch below the surface to find challenger brands which rely on the commission to challenge anti-competitive practices.

BIG AUDIENCE?

Media is like all businesses facing big challenges in the economic downturn.

But Larry Summerville of new Auckland radio station BIG FM insists that business is good and the station - the only one in Auckland that is independently owned now that George has been sold to MediaWorks - is settling in nicely. Which sounds like a great achievement given that it has launched into such a difficult market.

But it might be some time before advertisers have an idea how many people are listening.

Part-owner Summerville said that BIG FM would not be taking part in standard radio surveys in the immediate future. He said that advertisers would be able to judge the station's performance through sales.

- NZ Herald

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