This week, for those of you who follow me on Twitter, you will have noticed that I blacked out my avatar in protest of the amendments to the Copyright Act 1994 in New Zealand. The new law—to come in as ss. 92A and 92C—essentially (and I am highlighting only the negative bits here) gives copyright owners the opportunity to make an accusation against a netizen, with the ultimate result being that that person’s internet connection is severed. The opponents to this are touting it as a ‘guilt by association’ principle. The other provision is that anyone who provides internet services becomes an ISP under the law. Even Mr Stephen Fry, the world’s most famous Tweeter, has joined the protest by blacking out his avatar.
You would think that given my background in ﬁghting piracy I would be all for it. But it is unworkable. I don’t believe in the idea of guilt before innocence. If I ﬁnd our copyrighted work on a server somewhere, there are already very useful provisions for getting it off, whether one is in the US or in New Zealand. I know, and I have used them, and I get results within a week. The proposed law, as far as I can see it, doesn’t work.
However, the National Government has no intention of listening to the protest and has indicated, by my reading, that it will allow the new laws to come into effect—even though the EU and the UK have rejected similar laws. The Hon Peter Dunne MP, leader of United Future, is one of the few who have actually said anything against the amendments. (Mr Dunne’s position is protecting authors is OK, but that these go too far.) But the plan for National is to see how it all goes.
This is a major shortcoming and backs up all my accusations about National lacking a vision. Government, as its all-too-green MPs are going to ﬁnd out with this law alone, is not a forum for policy experiments. Nor are laws ways to test the waters with the public. When the sections are repealed, as they only must, someone will claim to be a hero or heroine, when the reality is that the party will simply look slow off the mark.
Juha Saarinen at The Techsploder suggests that the government is not going to listen because:
The reason our politicians won’t listen is because they’re concerned about New Zealand having signed various WIPO treaties and that the country might not get a free trade deal with the US unless the entertainment industry that vigorously lobbies the US Trade Representative gets its way. If that’s the case, then we the voters should be told and not have our sovereignty being sold down the river on the sly like this. Incidentally, my understanding is that the local rights holders people are not in favour of the law, but have to toe the line laid out for them by their overseas masters. Too bad, if that’s true.
It probably is. What we do have is a government that functions at an operational level, as I have been trying to say for years about the John Key-led bunch.
I have nothing personal against the Prime Minister, and I will even say he is far more personable in real life than he appears on television—the same can be said of his deputy. However, actions do speak louder.
Remember when Key, then leading the Opposition, tried to paint himself the local equivalent of a Cool Britannia leader by holding an under-40s’ party in Auckland, inviting trendy types to be seen with him?
When Labour refused to meet with HH the Dalai Lama during his New Zealand visit, Mr Key decided to stay away, too. Because it was safer, never mind the principles of self-determination.
When I said it was terrible that the politicians all got a 4 per cent pay rise on the ﬁrst Monday Key and his MPs took ofﬁce, nothing was done until President Barack Obama suggested his administration should not get raises. Key didn’t seem to realize it was a good idea till Obama suggested it. A principled stand, or one that looked good that he felt he could pinch? (He said it ‘showed leadership,’ when a two-month delay showed anything but.)
I’m not sure what Key’s policies really are, even though he is in government, but he looks like a political kleptomaniac to me, ready to get on others’ bandwagons rather than come up with initiatives of his own. I do not mind this too much—but where does he stand?
Right now the agenda seem to be technocratic: the support of Red China (as I bore witness at the Minister of Ethnic Affairs’ splendid New Year function a few weeks back) and, if Juha is right, support of the United States’ trade policies.
I have long been pro-American, in terms of the traditional principles of the US, and my family has a long history Stateside, but I will not support any legislation that weakens the freedom of New Zealanders. Such a law would be anathema to Americans, so how would abuse of New Zealand freedoms be appealing to a trade partner? Unless, of course, the government sees New Zealanders’ rights as below that of a foreign country’s—Labour allowed Red Chinese “diplomats” to push our own cops around to bar people they didn’t like, and National, it seems, are quite happy to put New Zealanders second to American trade lobbyists.
Regardless of who is in the White House, New Zealanders do not enjoy their sovereignty being sold out by their elected ofﬁcials.
The American trade lobbies, even in the entertainment industry, should know that copyright law in New Zealand is actually superior already to what they enjoy in the United States, and the mechanisms for pursuing pirates are already workable if they simply had the skills to use them.
A blanket guilt-before-innocence principle—something that any American would regard as unconstitutional, or perhaps the principles of the Bill of Rights no longer matter to lobbyists these days, when it comes to non-Americans—is not the way forward in this country.
We had Labour passing ex post facto laws and rules against satire, now we have this. There’s not much difference between the two in their understanding of democratic government.
But visionless governments cannot see beyond the arguments of their own citizenry. Insistent that pursuing failed technocratic policies is the only way out of a recessionary mess—when sparking innovation and creating jobs are clearly more beneﬁcial—democracy and giving New Zealanders a “fair go” may well take a back seat under Mr Key and his ministers. Posted by Jack Yan, 04:24
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