Campbell Smith: Anti-piracy law a reasonable way to protect artists' rights

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Lawmakers worldwide are getting to grips with how to protect creative content online. All agree with Prime Minister John Key's assertion that the internet should not be a "wild west" where creators' rights are trampled underfoot. Most are working on their own solutions to the problem.

New Zealand was at the forefront of tackling the issue with a law that had received bipartisan backing.

Music makers welcomed New Zealand's policymakers tackling this problem, realising that doing nothing was no longer an option. The trade value of recorded music worldwide has fallen by more than a fifth in the past 10 years, despite more people than ever using and enjoying it.

The recording industry has transformed its business models, making music available online and on mobile through a variety of different partners. Yet the widespread availability of unlicensed music on the internet acts as a disincentive to those considering setting up legal services.

The recorded music industry has been working hard to find proportionate and reasonable solutions to tackling online copyright infringement. In some countries, labels have taken legal action against users who have uploaded infringing music to the internet without permission for millions to download without payment.

We believe section 92A is a better solution for everyone.

In New Zealand, we have looked long and hard at coming up with an effective way of tackling the problem. Internet service providers are in a unique position to help us protect creative content online. It makes sense for the Government to facilitate negotiations to ensure that ISPs that take action are not undercut by those that do not. Consumers also need to be reassured that what is being done is efficient and proportionate.

In the past few weeks there have been a lot of misleading reports and sensational propaganda about section 92A. It is not surprising that many have spoken out against the legislation. I would vote against it myself if it was half as bad as it is being portrayed by some of its critics.

Some people have suggested the new law would mean people keeping tabs on what internet sites people visit or monitoring people's email. That is not true.

Others suggest that under the draft code of conduct designed to implement the law people will be summarily thrown off the internet for downloading a couple of unlicensed files. That is also not true.

What would happen is simple. Right holders could log on to public file-sharing sites, just as anyone can, and note which IP addresses are being used to upload pre-release music or films or large amounts of copyright-infringing material.

They would then prepare evidence, complete with details of the names of the copyrighted files being uploaded, exact timestamps and the protocol used, and send it to the relevant ISP. They would never see the personal details of the person behind that IP address.

The ISP would then contact its user and warn them that they were breaking the law, advise them not to do it again and provide details of where to enjoy music legally online.

If the user kept breaking the law the ISP could close the internet account.

I agree with the proposition that users should be able to flag to an independent adjudicator anything they regard as mistaken evidence. This is no sledgehammer. On the contrary, it is a reasonable and much preferable alternative to the lawsuits we've seen in other countries.

There are no human rights issue involved. Preventing copyright infringement is something that ISPs already set out in their terms and conditions.

Record companies and recording artists don't want anyone to lose their internet accounts. They want users to migrate from using unlicensed services to enjoying music legally online. If this happens, there is then a greater incentive for new players to come in to compete in the legal market.

Section 92A will be great news for consumers who will be able to enjoy a wide choice of artists to listen to.

* Campbell Smith is chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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