The Copyright (Parallel Importing of Films) Amendment Bill

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

The Copyright 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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