Thursday, April 14, 2011

Aotearoa as Hobbiton


Commentary: Shiv Ganesh, University of Waikato

National Party MP Katrina Shanks announced in parliament yesterday that "It is really important to remember that file sharing is an illegal activity." Actually, Katrina, it’s not. And this poorly conceived new bill that was bounced into law yesterday makes it possible to punish file sharers before copyright violation has even been established. It’s perfectly appropriate to ensure we have a mechanism to protect the intellectual property rights of the creative classes in this country. However, it’s critical that we establish that violation has in fact taken place, but the new bill makes it possible for copyright holders to apply to shut down an alleged offender’s Internet account without any burden of proof!

It’s especially sickening that this bill was bounced into law yesterday under cover of Parliamentary Urgency, which was designed for the passage of important earthquake relief legislation. The only connection that this bill has with the Christchurch earthquake is that on February 22nd, a bunch of American and Kiwi bureaucrats were hammering out intellectual property issues related to the infamous Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is an attempt to forge a free trade agreement between us and the U.S.

It’s not a coincidence that this new bill, passed under urgency and secrecy, resembles U.S.-style “three strikes” legislation regarding copyright. As part of free trade deals, the U.S. has pushed a number of other countries ranging from France and Spain, to Korea and Taiwan, into similar legislation. Ultimately, the bill we have will not protect the intellectual property of NZ-based artists, filmmakers and musicians. Instead, it will simply help U.S. based transnational entertainment companies like Warner Brothers make more money here, to the detriment of local creative industries, and at the expense of taxpayers, as three strikes bills are proving prohibitively expensive to implement.

It’s appalling—but maybe not surprising—that the NZ Labour Party supported the government in passing this ridiculous bill that helps transform Aotearoa into Hobbiton. It’s even worse that politicians used an emotive national emergency to create a law that had been pushed for by lobbyists rather than the NZ public at large. Anyhow, congrats everyone. We are now one step closer to a free trade deal with the US.

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