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New Zealand gets insane copyright law

New Zealand gets insane copyright law

Organized crime is everywhere. There's the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the American Mafia and the Russian Mafia. There's also the Japanese Yakuza and, until they got so wealthy from their realty holdings and legitimate businesses they couldn't afford to be outside of the law, the Irish Sinn Fein.

The cynical among us might also include the barons of Wall Street and the cartels that control oil (OPPEC) and diamonds (DeBeers), along with the U.S. health insurance industry (how they avoid being taken to court for their antitrust activities is a source of endless surprise to me).

There's another type of group that is indeed organized and whose actions border on criminal and are dangerous to Internet users, and that is the various groups around the globe that claim to represent the recording industry.

These groups represent huge private corporations such as record labels and distributors and are remarkably powerful. One such outfit, the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ), has just achieved something so outrageous, so stupendously immoral that it bears careful consideration.

Here's the story: A law was recently passed in New Zealand that has created what many consider to be the world's harshest copyright enforcement law. This insanity, found in Sections 92A and C of New Zealand's Copyright Amendment Act 2008 establishes -- and I am not making this up -- a guilt upon accusation principle!

Yep, you read that right. This means that anyone accused of "copyright infringement" will get his Internet connection cut off; and treated as guilty until proven innocent.

And if that weren't enough, this crazy legislation defines anyone providing Internet access as an ISP and makes them responsible for monitoring and cutting off Internet access for anyone who uses their services and is accused of copyright violations. Thus libraries, schools, coffee shops, cafes -- anyone offering any kind of Internet access -- will be considered ISPs and become responsible and potentially liable.

How could this ridiculous idea have become law in one of the nicest, most civilized countries I've ever visited (I've been to New Zealand twice and Kiwis, as they are called, are extremely friendly, relaxed, generous and hospitable, probably because they live in some of the most beautiful countryside on Earth).

The answer is that it is the result of immense pressure from the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand. In much the same way that the Recording Industry Association of America has used its massive legal resources to bully, harass and prosecute individuals alleged to have infringed copyright, so RIANZ lobbied and somehow managed to persuade New Zealand's parliament that the law was just, reasonable and the right thing to do.

Consider that similar proposals have not only been rejected by the European Union, but have actually resulted in the European Parliament voting in favor of an amendment against such legislation.

The EU amendment prohibits member states from implementing laws that would allow the disconnection of people accused of file-sharing based on the often dubious "evidence" (see "Tracking the Trackers") of anti-piracy groups.

This amendment -- which states that any such legislation "disconnecting alleged file-sharers based on evidence from anti-piracy lobby groups restricts the rights and freedoms of Internet users" -- put in a timely appearance given the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) has been lobbying hard for such laws and the French government was on the verge of actually implementing a bill similar to New Zealand's.

It seems that all of these industry meta-groups, the RIANZ, the BPI, and our own Recording Industry Association of America, just can't get their heads around the fact that they have a problem that can't be fixed the way they want it to be fixed. Instead they resort to politics and bullying to get what they want and it seems that many governments are willing to go along. Perhaps this isn't so surprising because all bureaucrats seem to repeat the same dumb mistakes.

Gibbs is somewhat cynical in Ventura, Calif. Send your suspicions to backspin@gibbs.com.


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