More on file sharing bill

posted 13 Apr 2011, 13:37 by James Williamson   [ updated 13 Apr 2011, 14:43 ]
Just reading some of the comments posted overnight while we wait for the debate to start over again, and several more points worthy of note. First, the way they have rushed this through under urgency with the Christchurch emergency measures is deplorable and looks really bad regardless of your views on the content of the bill - circumventing normal democratic process is one thing when it comes to actual emergency measures (like say, approving funding to fix broken drains or provide emergency housing), but when it comes to a controversial law that incited protests outside Parliament last time it was debated, well this just looks sneaky and underhanded. Indeed it may backfire spectacularly in that trying to rush this bill through "on the down low" may increase its public profile substantially, even among people who would usually not be too concerned about this issue.

Second, as National's Katrina Shanks inadvertently highlights, what about the "free wireless zones" recently set up in the central city of several major centers, such as Wellington? A business owner who provides free wi-fi commented that they will now have to put complex filters in place to prevent piracy and are still worried they could be liable if the filters are bypassed - so does this mean that the city council will be liable if people download infringing content through the free wi-fi they provide?

Lastly I'll leave you with this thought. The well known anti-piracy advertising campaign by the movie industry uses a tag line which can be paraphrased as "if you wouldn't steal a car, then why would you steal a movie?" Indeed. But if you could go up to a car and wave a magic wand that caused an identical copy of the original to appear next to it, complete with fuel and keys, and without harming or in any way affecting the original version - how many people do you think would choose to "steal" the copy of the car then?

Let's extend this analogy. Say the car is a taxi, and now because people are driving round free copies, not so many people are hiring the taxi, and the driver is losing out on fares. Well this does seem unfair on the taxi driver. But then what if we learn that the taxi driver has grown rich by charging extortionate fares to customers that are completely disproportionate to his operating costs, while exploiting a succession of struggling car manufacturers who receive on average only 2.3% of the fare, and in many cases give away free cars themselves to promote their brand and encourage future sales? The picture starts to become a lot murkier. The issue of copyright in the digital age is a prime example of how changes in technology can in turn change society. At some stage both big business and the legislature will have to accept that the best way to compensate content creators and rights holders today, is perhaps not the same as it was in 1709 when the first copyright law was passed in the UK (on which ours is based, and has changed relatively little in its basic principles). 

A post on Twitter by an MP whose party voted for the bill illustrates how poorly this issue is understood by our politicians. I think she genuinely does not realise her own hypocrisy!

James Williamson,
13 Apr 2011, 14:40