The Copyright (Parallel Importing of Films) Amendment Bill

July 8th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The House has referred to a select committee the The Copyright (Parallel Importing of Films) Amendment Bill.

The Act has a provision that bans the parallel importation of films into New Zealand for nine months. This provision expires on 31 October 2013.

The bill proposed extending the ban for a further three years, but reducing the period of the ban from nine months to five months.

I think this bill moves the law in the right direction (a shorter ban period) but I’m not convinced we should have a ban at all.

Craig Foss in moving the bill said:

The Copyright (Parallel Importing of Films) Amendment Bill imposes a temporary ban on the parallel importation of films for commercial purposes for a period of 5 months from the date of the film’s first release to the public. A ban on parallel importing is necessary to enable cinemas to exclusively screen films for a limited period, before copies of films on formats such as DVD and Blu-ray are brought to the New Zealand market. Although many films are released in New Zealand cinemas at the same time as international releases, many films are delayed for several weeks or months due to factors such as seasonality, screen availability, profitability assessments, and competition with other films. Without a ban in place, parallel-imported copies of films could potentially be sold in competition with screenings in cinemas. This could potentially affect the viability of cinemas.

Two things occur to me.

The first is I am far from convinced that allowing DVD sales immediately would threaten the viability of cinemas. People choose to go an see a film at the cinema for a number of reasons – the big screen, the larger capacity, the night out, the better sound etc.

The second is why should we protect cinemas as a medium. Do we protect supermarkets from dairies? Do we protect record stories from open air concerts? Let consumers choose how they want to watch a movie I say.

I think the future is, or should be, that upon release consumers can choose where and how they watch a new movie – so long as they are willing to pay for it.

It may be that a digital copy of a new movie costs $50 for the first month, then $30 for the first five months and say $20 thereafter.

Also the ban on parallel imports for a period encourages unauthorised copies. If you can’t legally buy a copy of a film, then you are more likely to acquire an unauthorised copy.

Labour also backs this bill so it will pass:

Jacinda Ardern: Just to go back to the beginning, in 2003, as I understand it, Labour introduced a 5-year temporary ban that prohibited the commercial import of a film for a period of 9 months from the film first being made available to the public. There is a very explicit reason for this and it is very much based around the motion picture industry—in particular, our small cinemas that many of us may have frequented over the years. I particularly want to highlight the ones in some of our smaller towns and provincial areas that really do rely on the ability to at least get a first foot in the door when it comes to a release. The staging of releases is pretty important to remember: something that is released in the United States, for instance, that is timed around a school holiday period, does not naturally coincide with that period within New Zealand. So having that little buffer period for that industry, as it claims, is the difference between 165 jobs existing or not. Let us be really clear on that. That is work that PricewaterhouseCoopers has done on behalf of the industry to demonstrate that a loss of that window would have that effect.

Let us be clear, though: the industry does have to move with the times. Things are changing, and rapidly. So that is why, as I understand, this bill will put an expiry date of 2016. It also reduces the window from a period of 9 months, which is what we currently have, down to 5 months. That is a compromise that we feel very comfortable with. This is a message, I guess, to the industry that this is unlikely to be a tenable, long-term way of maintaining its ability to stay in front of the game in a digital age. This is, as it were, extra time for the industry to try to develop where it goes next, in the same way that the music industry is doing—and has started doing a very good job of it, I must add. So too does this industry have to start looking at that, and much more rapidly, as well. This bill will allow it the time to do that. It will allow those jobs to be retained while the industry works on how it tries to ensure that it remains viable in the future.

I agree with Jacinda that this bill is not a tenable long-term way of comping with the digital age. My concern is will we just see it get extended time and time again every three years? This is the second temporary ban. MPs should make very clear that this will be the last one.

You can submit on this bill up until 25 July. What do readers think? Should cinemas be able to have an exclusive period where only they can show a film?

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22 Responses to “The Copyright (Parallel Importing of Films) Amendment Bill”

  1. chris (647 comments) says:

    The first is I am far from convinced that allowing DVD sales immediately would threaten the viability of cinemas. People choose to go an see a film at the cinema for a number of reasons – the big screen, the larger capacity, the night out, the better sound etc.

    I choose not to go see a film at the cinemas for a number of reasons:

    1) Ridiculously expensive, especially when 2 or more people want to watch a film. It’s so much cheaper to rent a DVD, or use AppleTV, Roku, Vudu, etc.

    2) Noisy people. Sure, the movie might be louder and better quality than we get out of our TV, but not much good when you have noisy people sitting all around you :)

    3) My couch is much more comfortable than any seat in any movie theatre

    Having said that, if a movie comes out I really want to see, it’s still great to see it on the big screen. And I have to take my kids to movies in the school holidays…

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  2. gump (1,649 comments) says:

    Placing restrictions on DVD sales will simply result in more people downloading the movies instead of buying them.

    The primary motivator for P2P services like BitTorrent is that they don’t impede or restrict consumers.

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  3. Peter (1,712 comments) says:

    Luddites the lot of them. It’s like arguing about preserving domestic coal deliveries.

    If you delay a movie being released here, then people simply go online. They’re not protecting anyone.

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  4. Peter (1,712 comments) says:

    Can’t remember the last time I went to see a movie, anyway. Years ago. A dead industry.

    My screen and sound system do the job well enough, the couch is spacious and comfy, the beer is readily available and cold, and the cost per movie is low.

    Movie theatres can’t compete with my lounge.

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  5. Drone (19 comments) says:

    As much as I hate to agree with the National Apologist DPF I can’t see a logical reason to maintain the ban on selling DVDs of new films for any period, 3 mnths, 5 mnths, etc. This is protectionism of the worst kind or is it, did anybody worry about the local high street retailers when New World or Countdown opened next door, no because the consumer wanted more choice better pricing etc etc. People want to see the latest releases as soon as they are released to the mainstream cinemas. Just like they want to see the latest TV shows as soon as they are released in the country of origin (States, UK ?). Failure to make them (films and shows) available in NZ has driven people to piracy and will continue to do so.

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  6. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    I don’t mind it, so long as each time this “temporary” ban gets renewed it gets shorter. So 5 months this time, 3 months next time, 2 months the time after that.

    I have a little sympathy for the argument about small local movie theatres. I also have sympathy for the argument that if they offered a product people wanted then those people would keep going – not everyone has a home theatre in their house!! In short, I think there are bigger things to worry about, and this extension is not the end of the world.

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  7. Alan Johnstone (1,087 comments) says:

    Protectionist crap, doomed to fail in an internet age. People watch content online.

    Kind of related, I really recommend “House of cards” staring Kevin Spacey. It’s the remake of the 80s UK political drama. Very well carried off. I went through S1 over the weekend.

    Don’t think it has an official NZ broadcaster though……..

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  8. peterwn (3,273 comments) says:

    The 1990’s national government removed parallel importing protection to facilitate competition.

    The Clark Labour Government re-introduced it for movies at the behest of cinema operators on the grounds that smaller cinemas in NZ relied on surplus imported prints of movies, it being uneconomic to provide ‘new’ prints to meet all NZ’s needs.

    It seems NZ and Australian customers are being ripped of with the purchase of software, DVD’s etc, and not extending this legislation may help achieve fairer prices.

    The USA Government owes NZ some favours as a quid pro quo for dealing with Mr Dotcom and assistance with intelligence via GSCB.

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  9. KiwiGreg (3,255 comments) says:

    As others have said – pointless protectionist legislation.

    I have thousands of DVDs and will happily buy them, I don’t like movie theatres. But if you won’t sell me what I want to see, I’ll just see it anyway.

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  10. KiwiGreg (3,255 comments) says:

    @peterwn if that’s correct “on the grounds that smaller cinemas in NZ relied on surplus imported prints of movies, it being uneconomic to provide ‘new’ prints to meet all NZ’s needs”

    then that ground has gone as theatres moved to digital formats.

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  11. dime (9,972 comments) says:

    What the hell??

    How much is that industry spending on lobbyists!

    Dime manages to survive with anyone being able to parallel import what he does.

    The movie industry deserves what it gets. it generally costs me about $50 to take gf to the movies. slightly OTT.

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  12. insider (1,028 comments) says:

    So does this just affect films in a can or digital ones too?

    what the legislators seem to forget is that the cinema industry has survived multiple competitive dislocations over the past 100 years. It didn’t have this protection then and survived, so why does it need it now?

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  13. anonymouse (716 comments) says:

    Interesting that Foss is supporting this Bill, according to the RIS, both MBIE and MCH support letting it lapse….

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  14. labrator (1,850 comments) says:

    It’s the “little theatres” the people seem so concerned about that seem to be doing the best out of all of this. They’re adaptable and they’ve been adapting. My local, which is not local but rather a way across town, bypassing several major chains on the way, gets my patronage because you sit in couches, not chairs, the coffee is spectacular, the theatre sits a maximum of 20-30 people, the staff are friendly and I can book over the phone with my first name and they’ll automatically sit me in the best seat available. They also don’t charge booking fees nor charge me for using my credit card online.

    The only companies these laws seem to favour are the megachains who offer very little in return for money exchanged.

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  15. RRM (9,924 comments) says:

    Cinemas need to make themselves worth going to.

    I wouldn’t bother going to Reading and paying to rub shoulders with grotty teenagers for 2 hours watching an average movie on an average screen and an average sound system.

    OTOH I have enjoyed all sorts of movies over a glass of wine at the Embassy – they have a screen the size of a building and a sound system so big that if you are watching a movie with bombs and explosions, you feel the shockwaves from them through your chest. Fcuk yea! :-D

    Even not-great movies can elevated into more of a spectacle than they really are. That’s what cinemas need to do to earn their money.

    NOT elaborate anti-competitive import laws.

    (An not long-winded nasty notes on a DVD you PAID FOR telling you what a bastard you are if you pirate movies, either… :mad: )

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  16. Albert_Ross (293 comments) says:

    How exactly do cinemas obtain films these days? Do they arrive on a memory chip or something? Are any of them still delivered/shown on those big reels? What do they do with them when they’re not showing them anymore?

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  17. DylanReeve (166 comments) says:

    How exactly do cinemas obtain films these days? Do they arrive on a memory chip or something? Are any of them still delivered/shown on those big reels? What do they do with them when they’re not showing them anymore?

    The majority (not huge majority yet) now are digital which means they receive the film on a hard drive usually in a package called a DCP.

    They need specialist projectors and playback systems for these (which are an expensive capital cost that will likely be out of reach for some small cinemas).

    The film remains the property of the distribution company and is returned to them after the theatrical run is finished. This is true of 35mm prints and DCP files/drives.

    Increasingly we see films being released more or less globally because there is no longer a limited number of expensive film prints to be shipped around the world (NZ was often a second-tier market, we’d get film prints after they had finished elsewhere).

    The arguments in favour, even if you accept the need to protect the cinema industry, are much weaker now than five years ago.

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  18. Albert_Ross (293 comments) says:

    Thank you for your trouble, DylanReeve

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  19. adze (2,126 comments) says:

    I have yet to see a compelling argument to support parallel imports that do not harm safety or breach regulations not relating to “the right” to import a particular product. Protecting Movie theatres? It’s a twilight industry at best. God knows they rort us at the snack counter.

    I think if companies can save money by employing cheap labour overseas, people should also be able to save money by purchasing from the cheapest supplier, wherever that is.

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  20. adze (2,126 comments) says:

    Should read “support restrictions on parallel imports…” above.

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  21. jpollock (5 comments) says:

    This law will stop bulk importation, but it won’t stop individuals from buying from Amazon/Book Depository/etc. It’s going to be a hard road for NZ retailers who are already behind on release dates and more expensive (even if GST and shipping are included).

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  22. leftyliberal (651 comments) says:

    It’s amusing that a bill labelled “Copyright amendment bill” is essentially promoting the piracy of the dvd/bluray products by restricting the sale of the products to those that wish to purchase.

    If it’s available for sale overseas (on many occasions before the oversease retail release) it is available for download anywhere in the world in full bluray quality.

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