ISPs tread risky path with new rules on piracy

By Maria Slade

Internet service providers are struggling to deal with a new law requiring them to axe the internet connections of customers who "repeatedly" access pirated material.

Section 92A of the Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act, passed last year, takes effect on February 28.

It says ISPs will have to "reasonably implement" a policy to disconnect "in appropriate circumstances" the internet services of users who have repeatedly downloaded or uploaded infringing music, movies, games or other copyright material.

ISPs will be required to act on accusations that a user is illegally accessing copyright material.

The law has implications for companies and organisations providing internet access to a number of people.

Section 92C of the act, saying ISPs must take down websites that contain copyright-infringing material, is already in force.

The Telecommunications Carriers' Forum, representing companies such as Telecom, TelstraClear and Vodafone, has called the law "deeply flawed".

TCF chief executive Ralph Chivers said the wording was vague. There was no detail on how to define or identify a repeat offender, or what was considered reasonable or appropriate.

It also put the onus on private organisations to implement the law, with no protection against comeback from their customers or the copyright holders. "The ISPs basically shoulder all the legal risk for taking action."

The TCF was coming up with a code of practice for internet providers to help them deal with the new law, and planned to put out the first draft for consultation around January 20.

"The people who really need to be concerned about the act are businesses, libraries, schools - anyone who provides internet access to someone else. Because they end up with the obligations under the act."

Chivers said the TCF also believed the new law would not be effective in dealing with hard-core offenders.

Ernie Newman, chief executive of the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand, said while copyright holders such as musicians and film-makers had a legitimate grievance, the new law was "ridiculous".

"What this piece of legislation has done is simply corrected a problem for one sector by imposing an even greater problem on another."

But Andrew Healey, executive director of the Australasian Performing Rights Association, said that ISPs had to take some responsibility for illegal downloads.

"[At present] the only people who are benefiting from what is a massive use of infringing material are the ISPs, because all that data is being transferred along their services."

Mr Healey said Apra was working with the industry on developing the code of practice, and it agreed that it was unreasonable to impose too many obligations on ISPs. But the organisation was happy with the law.

However another group of artists is campaigning against Section 92.

The Creative Freedom Foundation represents artistic people who want to see changes in the copyright law.

Co-founder and director Bronwyn Holloway-Smith said the group was concerned that people's internet access could be taken away simply upon an accusation. She said computers could be affected by viruses that meant users did not know they were illegally accessing material, or it could be hard to identify which user of an internet connection was responsible.

Steven Joyce, Minister for Communications and Information Technology, said the Government acknowledged there were concerns and would watch closely how the law worked in practice. "We're prepared to look at further changes if necessary."

* The law

Section 92A of the Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act comes into force on February 28.

It says ISPs must disconnect users who "repeatedly" access pirated material.

Section 92C, saying an ISP must take down a website containing copyright-infringing material, is already in force.

- NZ Herald

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