Cracking down on user rights: NZ’s new copyright laws

- Byron Clark

The Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Bill was passed into law earlier this week, the following is a slightly edited version of an article published in The Spark in Feburary 2007 after the bill passed its first reading.

On April 7 the Copyright (New Technologies and Performers Rights) Amendment Bill was passed into law by a 111 to 10 majority. The bills aim was to bring New Zealand’s terribly outdated 1994 copyright act into the 21st century, and makes some progress in that it decriminalises the increasingly common practice of copying your CD collection to a portable MP3 player (however it fails to to extend these same rights to other media such as DVDs).

More importantly though, the bill criminalises circumventing Technological Protection Measures, defined as “any process, treatment, mechanism, device, or system that is designed in the normal course of its operation to prevent or inhibit the unauthorised exercise of any of the rights conferred by this Act.” An example of TPM would be copy-protected audio CDs-CDs with software to prevent, for example, copying the music to a portable MP3 player. Circumvention of TRM for legal uses such as this is permitted but must be done by a ‘qualified person’ (prescribed libraries, archives and educational establishments). Even then these ‘qualified persons’ are required to “apply to the copyright owner or the exclusive licensee for assistance enabling the user to exercise the permitted act”. As lawyer Stephen Marshall pointed out “The hidden gotcha here is that the owner can charge like a wounded bull for the privilege and attach any conditions they feel like to the assistance process, in essence a form of copyright ‘filibuster’ that makes this whole provision as illusionary as every other consumer ‘freedom’ provided in this Bill”.

The bill emulates similar legislation in the USA; the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the anti-circumvention provisions of which have been invoked not against pirates, but against average consumers. A, a number of these cases have been documented by online rights organisation the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (see http://www.eff.org/IP/DMCA/unintended_consequences.php) Commenting on the New Zealand equivalent the popular blog Boing Boing stated “The US had an excuse: when it passed the DMCA in 1998, no one else had tried this and seen how bad it was … what possible excuse can New Zealand have for adopting this failed US policy initiative? Why would you want to import another country’s disaster?”

Media containing TRM, or DRM as it is called in the United States (for Digital Rights Management) have caused problems for a number of US consumers. Copy protection software often prevents media from being played by some devices and software, particularly Free Software which, in addition to usually being free in price, has a decentralised distribution model that makes paying royalties to media companies impossible.

In response to DRM the Free Software Foundation launched the Defective by Design campaign in 2006 to target companies using DRM and educate the public, the campaign has since attracted over 15,000 registered members and staged public demonstrations in the US and the UK. With DMCA-style laws now on the books here, maybe its time to bring the campaign to New Zealand.

One Response to Cracking down on user rights: NZ’s new copyright laws

  1. zap says:

    copyrights, watevr! i hate it when i received e-mails from the website administrator that my music page contains copyright violation. whatevr!

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