InternetNZ Copyright Bill Workshop

InternetNZ is a lobby and advocacy group for ISPs and other Internet companies the Internet and its users in New Zealand (update: ISPANZ is the lobby group for ISPs–my bad). Yesterday I spoke at an InternetNZ seminar in Wellington on the proposed amendments to the Copyright Act, and today (14th) I speak again at the Auckland event.

It was fantastic to be in a room full of lawyers and lobbyists, and to have them all on side of good. I took a show of hands and over half the room had heard of Larry Lessig. Many presenters and attendees spoke forcefully about the need for a more serious overhaul of the Copyright Act (wanting it to be completely revisited rather than simply amended). It was very energising!

My presentation was on Technical Protection Measures (TPM) which is how the bill describes DRM. In particular, the bill sets down some protocol around circumvention measures (which it calls “spoilers”). I argued that as written the bill prevents people from creating spoilers, from distributing them, and from using them. I further said that even if the language could be fixed, the bill would still assume that TPM spoilers were rarely needed whereas instead spoilers are what guarantee citizens can exercise their legally-permitted actions and if history is anything to go by (Microsoft DRM, Sony XCP, DVD Regions, …) publishers will use any means possible to create artificial scarcity in the marketplace and force consumers into needless parallel purchases.

In the audience were officials from the Ministry of Economic Development who wrote the bill, law professors who studied it, and the lawyers who’ll have to live around it. Other hot topics were ISP liability (InternetNZ is suggesting a notice-notice regime instead of a notice-takedown regime), time and format shifting (audio is permitted to format shift but not video, mysteriously), and decompilation.

The message I came away with, though, is a very Lessigian one: that the Act as enacted and Bill as drafted both talk about consumer rights as exemptions to the sweeping rights granted to producers. Instead, academics and practitioners passionately argued, the law should start with the fundamental rights of consumers and then carve out narrow exemptions to those rights for the purposes of copyright. I muttered “hear! hear!” and applauded several times during the discussion. That is a future battle, however, and not a battle we can reasonably fight at this stage in the bill’s life.

The deadline for citizens and groups to have their say is looming (as deadlines do–they never skulk, lope, or sidle): Friday. I passed on the advice I got at Kiwi Foo from Judith Tizard, the bill’s cabinet sponsor: you can easily circumvent the deadline by sending mail to the clerk of the committee saying something like “I wish to make an oral submission when the select committee visits Auckland, and I will talk to the topics of TPM, time shifting, and format shifting”. Then you have until the select committee hearings to prepare your response. You can also use the online submission form.

Many thanks to InternetNZ for the opportunity to participate. I’ll put my slides online when the Auckland event is over and blog them when I do Update: I have put the slides to my TPM presentation online. Update: fixed the URL–sorry!