Copyright Amendment Act an epic fail

by Peter Griffin / 13 August, 2011
Options for legal downloading should be available.


So is it really the last hurrah for free music and movie downloads? All across New Zealand, people are no doubt maxing out their broadband caps as they snatch those last few classic albums, stock up on movies and ensure they’ve downloaded enough US network TV shows to see them through the coming months.

That’s because from September 1 we all become subject to the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act 2011, which the Government is introducing to try to stop people using internet file sharing to rip off the entertainment industry by downloading its content for free.

For web-savvy middle-of-the-road users of BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing programs, who noticed the date was looming, the content binge is like the scramble to get out of East Berlin before the Iron Curtain came down. Young people, who do most of the pilfering because they’ve grown up with BitTorrent, will be largely oblivious to the looming date – and greet it with a shrug of the shoulders when they do find out.

The heavy downloaders who hoard gigabytes of content and pass it on to others have already figured out ways to circumvent the law, using alternative technologies not covered by the Act – such as downloading files from the web – or using software to mask their tracks on the internet.

Which is why this new law isn’t going to work. Sure, the copyright holders have the law on their side and a strong moral case to pursue copyright infringers. They always have. But it is a case of practicalities, and in that sense the law is doomed to failure.

It will initially have some chilling effect. But two things will undoubtedly happen. First, people will move on from BitTorrent to the next big thing in distributing content online, which is already in the pipeline. The ­legislation will take years to catch up.

Second, a family of bewildered, slightly inept and quite likely flagrant copyright violators will be hauled before the Copyright Tribunal after ignoring the baffling warnings they’ve received. The parents will complain to Mark Sainsbury in a one-sided Close Up interview about the $15,000 fine they can’t pay, which is all the fault of their kids, their kids’ friends, or their neighbours over the fence tapping into their insecure Wi-Fi network. Critics of the “guilt upon accusation” nature of the tribunal process will be out in force protesting in scenes reminiscent of the first attempt to introduce this legislation.

The problem is that you can’t build a wall across the internet. When people all over the world are sharing experiences and giving feedback on movies and albums, the people in the ghetto who can’t receive the same stuff are going to get frustrated to the extent they’ll tunnel their way out, or smuggle the goods in. People don’t want to wait. They want the good stuff now – when everyone else in the world is watching it and raving about it on Twitter. New Zealand is a content ghetto. A third thing should happen with the introduction of the law. Better options for getting content legally should be made available.

It would mean that these fancy new Smart TVs coming onto the market that let you access YouTube and online movie and TV-show libraries on a big, bright screen are actually set up for New Zealanders to use properly. And it wouldn’t mean taking a huge whack out of your monthly data allowance to download a movie or paying through the nose for a subset of what our friends in the US and Europe get.

It would mean getting streaming content services going in New Zealand – Pandora, Spotify, Hulu and BBC iPlayer. It would mean making the legal option more convenient and affordable to the masses.

I’m not holding my breath on that front. That’s because the entertainment industry wants it both ways. It wants us to wait in line while it drip-feeds content to us via the international distribution deals it has sewn up. Then it wants us to go online and buy it as well. That’s why the law will ultimately fail and why the downloading will continue largely unabated.

Details on how the new system will work here. For more tech news, visit Peter Griffin's Technology blog.
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