Internet law experts and the Opposition are calling on the Government to come clean over the influence "secretive" international intellectual property negotiations are having on new internet copyright legislation.
Negotiators from 37 countries are meeting this week in Wellington for five days of talks to advance the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a treaty originally proposed by the US which sought to control the trade in fake physical goods but which has now been widened to deal with the illegal distribution of copyrighted content on the internet.
The negotiations were preceded by an InternetNZ-hosted conference PublicACTA, which aimed to raise public awareness of issues with the proposed agreement. They include its potential to allow cover "non-commercial infringement of copyright material by ordinary citizens" and issues of digital rights management.
InternetNZ and its international speakers have slammed the lack of transparency around the treaty's aims and the "secretive" negotiations around its development. What is known about the treaty has been learned from leaked drafts.
"Since signing such an agreement will obligate a country to legally enforce it, this means the democratically elected New Zealand government is negotiating with other countries to potentially change our laws, and is doing so in secret",conference organisers said.
Labour Party communications and and IT spokeswoman Clare Curran said there had been no demonstration of the need for ACTA, no economic analysis on the extent of the file sharing problem in this country and no proof of the need to toughen up enforcement of copyright.
Ms Curran said there were "important questions that need answering about the intent of ACTA and what New Zealand's negotiating position is."
The ACTA negotiations are taking place little more than a week before the Copyright Amendment Bill - which replaces the controversial section 92 legislation - is due for its first reading in Parliament.
Section 92 had a "three strikes" provision requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to disconnect users accused by copyright owners of downloading pirated material on three separate occasions.
Concerns that there was no independent scrutiny of claims made by copyright holders against users have been addressed in the new bill but the three strikes and disconnection measures - which PublicACTA speaker Michael Geist said are features of ACTA revealed in leaked drafts -remain.
But a spokesman for Commerce Minister Simon Power said the review of the section 92 was "on a separate track from discussions in ACTA."
New Zealand's negotiating team at ACTA "is mindful to ensure that the proposals being discussed during the negotiations do not limit or prevent New Zealand from implementing measures tailored to New Zealand's domestic circumstances to address copyright piracy that occurs through use of the Internet."
InternetNZ Senior Research Fellow in CyberLaw Jonathan Penney said while the Government maintained there was no link between the legislation and ACTA, research papers about the new bill contained "implicit" recognition of the treaty.
"If you step back and you look at what is going on, there is obviously a link here."
"I think the hope of the New Zealand Government is that the legislation that they'll be passing will be consistent with their obligations if they sign ACTA in the end."
At the very least, by passing the legislation before ACTA was complete the Government was running the risk of having revisit the law later, he said.By Adam Bennett Email Adam