WELLINGTON, 13 APRIL 2011 - In a wide-ranging debate under urgency, Parliament brought the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill to the brink of passage at midnight last night when the Speaker suspended debate.
The final vote this morning passed the Bill by 111 votes to 11, the same figure as at second reading.
The legislation puts in place a complex regime of warning and enforcement notices issued through internet service providers to users suspected of infringing copyright by online file-sharing, culminating in appearance of alleged repeat infringers before the Copyright Tribunal and possible further penalty in a district court.
The power to suspend a repeat offender's internet account is held in reserve in the Bill, to be possibly activated at a future stage by an Order in Council. Some Parliamentarians responded with relief to this suspension, while others complained that it makes enforcement of the ultimate sanction less democratic than normal inclusion in a law that has gone through the full Parliamentary process.
The debate brought frequent reference, particularly by Labour ICT spokeswoman Clare Curran, to the uncomfortable compromise of including but reserving the suspension power, which had finally ensured the votes of the Labour party.
Members repeated much material familiar to anyone who has been following the progress of the Bill and the previous ill-fated Section 92A of the Copyright Bill; including reference to internet access as a human right and characterisation of the disconnection penalty as no worse than a driving ban; there were even the obligatory comparisons of the internet to the Wild West.
On the more forward-looking side, Green MP Gareth Hughes contended that what is needed is a complete re-examination of the working of Copyright in an age of rapidly advancing digital technology.
The spectre of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement was raised by several Opposition MPs. The US entertainment industry is pushing for a further extension on copyright terms and re-examination of ISP liability for customer breach of copyright, according to leaked TPP negotiation papers and Opposition MPs raised fears that the agreement reached on the file-sharing Bill may be a temporary and hollow victory.
Commerce Minister Simon Power's amendment clarifying the burden of proof in connection with an accusation of infringement was accepted into the Bill.
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