Analog regulation in a digital world

A really good joint report from the NZ Initiative and InternetNZ on analog regulation in a digital world.

They propose a number of ways to update our regulatory provisions for the digital age, such as:

  • Copyright must adapt to technological changes that open new ways of making, marketing, and accessing content. One example here is making our current “fair dealing” system more flexible, complementing copyright protections with room to innovate, and apply new technologies which open creative ways to reuse works and reach audiences.
  • The government’s commitment to open data principles needs to be seen by greater open data practice. New Zealand has a wealth of microdata from surveys and we can do much to make access easier without compromising confidentiality.
  • Anti-Money Laundering legislation should be more sensitive to the size of potential risks so it does not hinder digital innovation. The delay in setting up Bitcoin exchanges is a case in point.
  • Regulatory Impact Statements should note whether compliance with comparable jurisdictions’ rules could also be adequate for New Zealand purpose.
  • Film and television censorship regimes must be updated to better account for how users can learn about and access content with modern technology.
  • The scheduled review of the Harmful Digital Communications Act should consider whether the Act has been proportionate to the harms targeted and whether it has chilled non-infringing speech.
  • Small tweaks can sometimes make a big difference. Confirming that supersonic aircraft need only comply with chapter 3 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation noise specifications for take offs and landings will see New Zealand ready for the next generation of supersonic passenger aircraft – and six-hour trips to the California coast.

The report notes:

The fiercest opposition to digital innovations generally comes from
incumbent industries. This is not surprising given their bottom line is under threat from new entrants. That the industry demands to apply
regulation to new digital competitors rather than abolish it for themselves shows regulation as a barrier to entry. Note the response of the taxi industry to Uber or hotel chains abroad to Airbnb.

Both new services which have been great for consumers but bad for incumbents.

Incumbents suggest new entrants should follow the same rules as
existing players. Calls for level playing fields earn some sympathy. But
regulation should focus on protecting consumer rights or addressing
harmful effects on third parties. If new technology can solve those
problems just as well as existing regulation, shackling new players with rules designed for older systems hurts consumers and competition.

Technology can be much better at solving problems. The fact my journey in an Uber is GPS tracked is much more reassuring to my safety than whether a taxi has a video camera in it.

The report also looks at the issue of copyright and how the law has to keep being amended as new technologies arise.

The VCR meant we had to change our copyright laws in 1994 to make them legal.

Reverse engineering was only made legal in NZ in 2008, 16 years after the US.

Digital video recorders and cloud services are technically in breach of NZ copyright law.

We need a copyright law that is flexible and focuses on the use, not the copying.

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