Labour and copyright

MPs hosted a roundtable on Tuesday evening to discus issues – not just S92A, but longer term issues over how copyright law intersects with modern technology.

I’ll touch on the politics of it more in my NBR column, but this is smart opposition politics, and a good move for Labour. And I’m not just saying that because I was one of those invited – I’ve spent enough time in the Opposition meeting room to not feel a need to visit it often!

The turnout from Labour was impressive for what is not a top tier issue. Comms/IT spokesperson moderated. Arts/Culture spokesperson was also there as was who chairs the Commerce Committee that will presumably consider the Government’s law change. also there for a bit (Maryan was on the original Commerce Committee and was a key player in getting some good changes made at the select committee – which sadly were later overturned) as was and also . So four former Ministers and six MPs in total.

There were a couple of dozen stakeholders there, and the discussion was useful. The first half probably saw more heat than light, but as time went on there were quite a few areas of agreement. Lynn Prnetice from The Standard and myself even agreed several times 🙂

Pretty much everyone agreed the current law is hopelessly inadequate for modern day copyright infringement issues. The law is only really set up to deal with situations where people make money infringing copyright, and is based around economic remedies. But a major problem today is infringement for personal use.

Everyone in the room said that there should be some cheap and quick (but fair) process where personal infringement offences can be adjudicated and dealt with. No one at all said one should be able to avoid paying for works by downloading. The Internet people all thought fines would be appropriate penalties – maybe tied to the value of the work they have infringed plus a penalty. It was thought maybe it could be like the IRD – if you download 100 songs that cost $1 each you’d be fined the $100 value plus maybe 50% penalty so $150. I did joke that people could just disclose their volume of ilegal downloads to the IRD on their tax returns 🙂

The rights holders rep said he would prefer Internet disconnection than fines as a sanction, as they think it is a bigger deterrent. I did get the impression though that any sort of meaningful sanction would be a step forward for them.

Quite a lot of discussion over future business models. The point was made that no one has a right to make money from their “art” – they have the right to have the “opportunity” to make money, but technology does disrupt traditional business models, and no industry is exempt – ie the media are just as disrupted by the Internet as the music industry.

I suggested the long term future is something along the lines of you pay $40 a month to your ISP for Internet access, and if you want it goes to $55 a month for Internet access and all the songs you can download legally, and say $65 a month to also subscribe to legal TV downloads and say $80 a month to also get movie downloads. And if ISPs are keeping a share of the license fee, they gain an incentive to crack down on those doing free copyright infringing downloads. A fair few people agreed this would be a desirable future.

I also advocated that rights holders and ISPs should try and get a voluntary agreement, regardless of any law, that allows right holders to have education notices to alleged infringers sent through ISPs. Even without sanctions involved, it is likely this would see a significant drop in infringing downloads. But right holders can’t expect ISPs to act as their mailmen for free s that is a key issue. from indicated they had been discussing just that with the TCF, which is good.

Without beating up on Healey (who made many constructive contributions), I was a wee bit disappointed that he did repeatedly go on about how the room was unbalanced with so many”Internet people” there and so few artists. This was the one issue that got people a bit worked up as many of the Internet people somewhat angrily proclaimed they were also artists.

S92A was discussed, but the focus was on wider issues around the law. Many people (including myself) advocated for a full first principles review of the law which would take account of today’s world where digital copying is instant and cost free, the fact the nature of infringing is now for personal use not economic gain, and most importantly to look at having a broad fair use doctrine that covers stuff such as parody, satire, fair quoting etc etc. Copyright is not just about music. Healey made the point that you have international treaty obligations so a first principles review may be pointless as you can’t avoid those. Personally I don’t think the two are incompatible.

Overall it was a good initiative by Labour. The MPs engaged well, and were not defensive about their role in originally supporting s92A. In fact a couple of former Ministers said they had been going back through old Cabinet papers to find out why they supported it at the time. The MPs participated but mainly were there t listen and consider possible ways forward for their positioning based on contributions.

No magic solution engaged, but I think most people found it quite worthwhile, and you know the Government would gain some kudos if it did the same and had an open dialogue with relevant Ministers and stakeholders. I think it would help them in progressing a law change.

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