Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

Copyright bill a 'Green agenda'

Jones launches attack after spoof advert

Copyright changes proposed by a member of the Green Party could destroy jobs and is "piss-taking" business, says Labour's Shane Jones.

It is the latest swipe Jones has taken at the Greens after MP Gareth Hughes voiced support for a Greenpeace spoof of a Sealord television advertisement.

The mock advert - released online - was dubbed over a Sealord television commercial and criticised what Greenpeace believed were harmful fishing practices.

Jones, a former Sealord chairman, called it a step too far, and likened it to economic vandalism at a time when jobs were scarce.

Not content to let the issue die, Jones has now taken aim at changes to copyright law tabled by Hughes, calling them a vehicle for the "Green agenda" to continue "piss-taking" business.

Hughes' amendments aim to widen the interpretation of existing laws in favour of those wishing to parody or satirise copyrighted work.

Hughes told the Weekend Herald that satire and parody were not covered under current laws and said the changes would bring New Zealand in line with other countries.

"At the moment, if a company says 'you're breaching my copyright, you're commenting on our activities or views', [satirists] just don't have a legal leg to stand-on," Hughes said.

"I think it's a big hole because it's legitimate public commentary. Parody and satire have been used for literally thousands of years to make public and political commentary."

Globally, protest groups have actively parodied corporate brands for years - with McDonald's icon Ronald McDonald a regular target. In 2004 Hughes himself was arrested after donning the clown suit and chaining himself to the gates of McDonald's distribution centre in Wiri.

Although the Labour Party has indicated early support for Hughes' proposed changes, Jones argues it could let "economic vandals" harm companies' brands.

"This is a bill which will definitely lead to the destruction of jobs, which makes it a crackpot idea. Jobs are not going to be maintained if brands are destroyed."

But Hughes said Jones was "trying to use copyright as a bullying tactic" to stop the public questioning the "activities of corporates". "I think he is out of step with New Zealand where we respect freedom of speech."

But to what extent should the public be able to take a company's advertising and use it in ways which could unfairly damage its reputation?

Complicating this is the difficulty in quantifying just how much harm the likes of the Sealord spoof can cause.

Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said that though satire was often just irritating, there were instances where it could be a bigger problem.

"If it turned into a major campaign, for example, it would be a bit of an issue ... it can be damaging but it's very, very rare that it is."

University of Auckland marketing lecturer Mike Lee said companies were often unwilling to admit that parodies have any impact.

"However, common sense would suggest that in a competitive marketplace such negative information is likely to affect some consumers' decisions, or at least provide consumers with a conflicting view."

Lee said the Sealord stunt was just one of many "adbusts" that Greenpeace and other activists had pulled.

"Adbusting involves taking and twisting the emotional appeals of a company to expose what activists believe are the real stories behind companies' environmental mission statements.

"Starbucks, Nike, McDonald's, BP and Coke are also frequent targets ... research has shown the bigger the share of market and voice a company has, the more likely it will be targeted."

Companies can of course fight back at these "adbusts" with court action, particularly if they mislead consumers. However, Lee said many companies choose not to and believe that heavy-handed action could make it seem like they've got something to hide.

Simpson Grierson intellectual property lawyer Raphael Winick said companies should be careful about choosing which battles to fight.

"Normally [something like] a Greenpeace ad will have its own lifecycle of a few weeks and people will move their attention to something else.

"But if there are legal proceedings, it allows this ad and Greenpeace's views to get a lot of additional free publicity and exposure to people who would either not [have] known about it at all or moved their attention on to something else afterwards."

A spokesperson for Sealord said the company was not ruling out legal action over the Greenpeace spoof. But Lee said that rather than rally against parodies, companies should simply treat criticism as "free market research".

"They need to reflect on their policies to see if there is any merit in such criticism, and to change for the better if feasible."

Similarly, branding specialist James Bickford said parodies such as Greenpeace's help keep brands honest.

"Greenpeace having the opportunity to question whether brands are actually delivering the truth or whether they're using corporate social responsibility as a kind of bandwagon tool I think is a good thing.

"I think it will keep brands honest and transparent with their customers."

Bill would allow for parody and satire

Copyright (Parody and Satire) Amendment Bill

The proposed changes to copyright law would explicitly permit the use of copyrighted work for the purpose of parody or satire.

The private member's bill was launched by Green MP Gareth Hughes before last year's election and is in Parliament's ballot waiting to be drawn.

It would add "fair dealing" provisions into law, allowing satirists to use copyrighted video, audio or images in the same way that book reviewers can use copyrighted text in their commentary of a novel.

The Creative Freedom Foundation said it would allow the law to catch up with technology.

"Home computers have allowed unprecedented access to video and audio production, however the law hasn't kept up with the public's desire to comment using current technology," says the CFF website. "There is now a proliferation of remix and mashup culture. Many of these new works are parodies or satires, however this form of creativity isn't protected by New Zealand copyright law."

The foundation's director, Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, said similar protections were put in place across the Tasman in 2006.

- NZ Herald

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