This morning the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act 2011 (the “IFS”) came into effect. It seems like a life time ago that Napster arrived, had several million users and then was wiped out with litigation. So what is the IFS intending to do? Well it now makes it illegal (actually it always has been) to share (upload or download) copyrighted material (such as movies and songs) without the authorisation of the copyright holder (such as the movie studio or recording artist). Generally, statutes such as the IFS tend to prescribe the consequences of not complying. The consequences are possibly irrelevant if you have too much money and do not want the advantages of having internet access. I suspect anyone who is illegally downloading movies probably does not fit into that category. How the law is going to practically operate is this: You download an unauthorised copy of say “The Kings Speech” from somewhere like “Pirate Bay”, the copyright owner or their agent identifies that you have done so (they have the technology which enables them to do that) and sends an “evidential packet” (basically the details of their allegation against you) to your internet Service Provider (“ISP”), your ISP then sends you an infringement notice, after you have received three infringement notices the copyright holder can apply to the Copyright Tribunal for the person who is named on your internet account (which depending on who is paying the account could be you, your partner, your parents etc.) to be fined up to $15,000. The IFS does provide, in the future, for the ability of the District Court to order that the account holder’s account be cancelled. A fairly extreme remedy but no different from, say, a Mall Owner issuing a shoplifter with a trespass notice. There are bound to be a few unintended consequences. Let's take the example of the babysitter who gets onto YouTube and unknowingly accesses (downloads) some copyrighted material without authorisation. Bang potential infringement notice number one may be on its way. The big area of concern for me is workplaces. I have been harping on for years (actually 15 years now) that any employer who provides unrestricted internet access to their staff is either very trusting or very naïve. The studies have all shown that a small minority of staff with unrestricted internet access will access copyrighted material without authorisation. Having a good internet policy, monitoring and enforcing it will help in many cases. Once the District Court has the power to remove internet access it might just be those steps that save a business from returning to the fax machine and snail mail.
By Chris Patterson