As the "copyright wars" simmered away worldwide for the last decade or so, New Zealand largely remained aloof, to everyone's relief. Well, not everyone; American corporate media industry lobbyists set up NZFACT to pressure the NZ government (and police) to cooperate in their ham-fisted "war on piracy." And last year, with the help of music industry lobby APRA, they successfully persuaded the Labour government to pass a truly horrible law, supposedly in the name of "protecting artists" from online copyright theft.
Well, at the election in November 2008, that government was defeated, and now we have a new one. But the law remains, and one of its worst sections, s92a (which obliges ISPs to kick those accused of copyright infringement off the internet – without any proof required) comes into force in February. Any hopes that the new government would see sense on this issue appears to have been dashed, as they've now said they intend to go ahead with the "guilt upon accusation" law.
Last month, a new organisation was set up to speak for artists who feel industry lobbies like APRA and NZFACT don't speak for them: the Creative Freedom Foundation. They have an online petition and have been busy trying to get our voices heard in the media. Now they're asking all New Zealanders who oppose s92a to write to the government.
For what it's worth, here's what I wrote, in an effort to explain why I oppose the new law:
I am writing to strongly oppose the implementation of s92a of the Copyright Amendment Act.
I am a full-time professional artist and author, who depends largely on royalties for my income. In theory, then, I am just the sort of person s92a is supposed to protect.
In my opinion, however, s92a does not protect me at all. Instead, it is destructive of the new opportunities now emerging on the internet for artists like me.
This year, I am shifting a large part of my work online, which is increasingly the way things are going for many writers, artists, musicians and even film-makers. Artists like myself are busy building new forms of distribution and finding new ways to gain professional and financial rewards from the opportunities the internet presents. S92a will do nothing to prevent serious, organised, profit-making piracy – but it will do a lot of harm to the kind of small-scale, innovative online activity that is fast transforming the arts economy worldwide.
Furthermore, it is unworkable and unjust. I'm not surprised that the UK government is now backtracking from their similar proposals, and that other countries who have considered similar laws are rejecting them as destructive. It doesn't take much effort to find countless stories of why these sorts of policies are ridiculed around the world – from false accusations to porn producers using them to extort money from innocent internet users. Please don't make New Zealand into the laughing stock of the internet!
There are plenty of alternatives. Many countries are exploring policies that would encourage online innovation while continuing to reward content producers (such as a small tariff on ISP data charges which goes to an administered fund for creators; opt-in systems where consumers can pay a set fee to enable them to download whatever they like; expanded fair use definitions, etc). There are plenty of new and innovative business models emerging – but laws like s92a hinder, rather than helping, such innovation.
The reality is that new technology is transforming the whole landscape for the arts and media. This change is exciting and presents countless positive opportunities for artists, musicians, authors and filmmakers. Such change cannot be prevented. Trying to do so merely delays the emergence of new models, and creates plenty of injustice and hardship along the way (by punishing the innovators and criminalising a whole generation of enthusiastic young internet users).
New Zealand can be at the crest of the wave, or we can be left behind by the rest of the world.
For a small, remote country, the internet is our best opportunity in generations. We simply cannot afford to mess it up like this!
The final point I would like to make is this: s92a is NOT in the interests of artists. When groups like NZFACT and APRA claim to represent us, they do not. They represent the middlemen who profit from our work – often at our expense. This law does not protect artists. It serves only those who are afraid of innovation and change.