Internet activists and minor parties in New Zealand have slammed a decision by the two major parties to include a clause within a new law that - if effected - would see internet subscribers disconnected when found to have downloaded copyright-protected material.
The New Zealand Parliamentary Commerce Select Committee has made substantial changes to the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing Amendment) Bill, New Zealand's Commerce Minister Simon Power announced today.
Primarily the law extends the jurisdiction of New Zealand's Copyright Tribunal to provide a fast-track and low-cost process to hear copyright infringement claims.
Those found guilty of infringement by the Tribunal could face penalties of up to $15,000.
Included within the law is a clause that allows New Zealand's District Court to suspend Internet accounts for up to six months - but it recommended this clause not to be enacted until after a two-year review of existing remedies.
If copyright infringement notices sent to users are found not to be effective in stemming file sharing, or if rights holders produce actual proof of economic harm from file sharing, the account suspension remedy is likely to be activated.
InternetNZ chief executive Vikram Kumar told iTnews that deciding not to introduce Internet account suspension now is "better than the current law", but that the lobby group would have preferred no account suspension being included in the new bill.
He also expressed concern about the reversal of proof in the proposed bill, which states that rights holders' copyright notices will be considered conclusive proof that infringement has occurred.
Vikram outlined two concerns about the reversal of proof. There is now a low barrier for rights holder to abuse the system, something Vikram says "happens overseas all the time". Second, the burden of proof will be on the accused to prove that they didn't download a certain file.
"How are they going to do that?" Vikram said. "How can I prove that I didn't download a particular file?"
Communications and IT spokeswoman for New Zealand's opposition Labour party, Clare Curran, announced support for the new bill, and said that the decision to delay introduction of the account suspension remedy was a compromise that made it possible for her party to support the bill.
In 2008, Labour introduced the original copyright bill - with account suspension included - which has now been modified by the Select Committee after public protests.
Gareth Hughes, ICT spokesman for New Zealand's Green Party, said the party "supports this Bill in principle, but opposes the retention of termination in the legislation.
"The compromise before the Committee isn't a compromise on this issue at all. Termination needs to be removed from the Bill," Hughes said.
Filtering also likely
The announcement arrived on the same day New Zealand's largest telco chose to adopt internet filtering.
As reported on iTnews earlier today, Telecom New Zealand has joined a voluntary scheme operated by New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs (DIA).
Several of the largest ISPs in the country have joined the DIA filter, which is aimed at preventing access to child pornography. Others, such as state-owned provider Orcon, has openly come out against filtering and say it won't join the scheme.