Innocent internet users could easily become entangled in new copyright laws even if they're not pirating movies or music, a web expert warns.
The Government's "three strikes" copyright law, which takes effect on September 1, requires internet companies to issue warning notices to customers suspected of illegally downloading material, if rights holders - such as film studios or record companies - request it.
After a third notice, a customer can be taken before the Copyright Tribunal and fined up to $15,000.
But internetNZ's chief executive, Vikram Kumar, said anyone using peer-to-peer software, even for legitimate purposes, could receive warning notices.
Peer-to-peer is a method of connecting computers which lets users search for and download files stored on each of the individual systems that are part of the network.
The software was popular with music and movie pirates, but Kumar said it was used in a wide range of industries - such as the research and innovation sector - to distribute large amounts of information easily.
"Peer-to-peer software is hugely valuable ... as a technology it's very useful and closer to the original design of the worldwide web."
However, third parties employed by rights holders to catch internet pirates were already sending out warnings to peer-to-peer users, even if there was no real evidence they were illegally downloading.
"This is an indirect method of [copyright policing]. It's one of the low-cost methods used and it tends to throw up a lot of false accusations."
Given the burden of proof in the new law falls on those accused of copyright infringement, Kumar recommended those without a background in computing should stop using peer-to-peer software altogether.
internetNZ has set up a website - http://3strikes.net.nz/ - with information about the new law.