It is understandable that the Commerce Minister responded somewhat tartly to United Nations criticism of internet copyright legislation that will take effect in September.

Simon Power has spent more than two years grappling with, and consulting on, issues raised by burgeoning online piracy, including unauthorised movie and music downloads. The outcome of his endeavour, the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act, is, by general consensus, a substantial improvement on the previous Government's sledgehammer-like legislation. But still the complaints roll in.

In some measure, this is probably inevitable, given the fine line that must be trod in policing the widespread copyright abuse on the internet. A balance must be struck between the freedom of users and the policing of that abuse.

The UN emphasises just one part of that equation in suggesting the internet has become a human right and an important way for people to "exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression". The new law, it contends, disregards this in denying users access to the internet as a penalty for repeated illegal downloads of copyrighted material.

Under the act, illegal file sharers will receive warnings for their first two infringements. In the event of a third breach, the owner of the copyrighted material can seek an order from the Copyright Tribunal - chaired by a High Court lawyer - for an offender to pay compensation of up to $15,000. If this fails to stem online piracy, the Government may grant the tribunal the power to cut off a culprit's internet connection for up to six months.

The UN is right to note the importance of the internet, not least in providing access to knowledge and information. But its stance ignores the fact that online piracy equates to theft. It is no less a case of stealing than shoplifting. In circumstances such as these, the mere presence of an object can never be an excuse for taking it.

The owners of the copyrighted material can hardly be expected to stand by while their work is pirated, especially by those who stand to make a substantial commercial gain from it. Such people, with serious repeat offenders, will be the targets of the new law. People who occasionally download movies and TV shows are highly unlikely to find themselves in the Copyright Tribunal's line of fire. That factor, in itself, suggests the UN's concerns are much overstated.

Further reason for Mr Power to shrug off its worries is provided by the improvements in the new law. The previous legislation erred seriously by providing no independent scrutiny of claims made by copyright holders against users.

While the amendment act continues with the three-strikes approach, it contains the safeguard of the tribunal. That body's make-up suggests, also, that too much weight should not be given to concerns that the user is "presumed" to be guilty. Given all the talk about human rights, sufficient account will surely be taken of evidence that suggests the burden of proof should be on the copyright holder.

Clearly, no legislation was going to please everyone. But if the internet was not to become a byword for lawlessness, action needed to be taken. Even now, some internet companies are continuing their resistance, suggesting they will struggle to cope with the new law.

There have been predictions of a chaotic introduction in September. But if all parties adopt a reasonable approach, one that recognises the intention of the legislation rather than treating it as an invitation to open slather, there is no need for this to happen. This is a far better law than its predecessor. It should be acknowledged as such and be given every chance to work.