New Zealanders 'Black Out' Internet In Copyright Protest

Dennis Faas's picture

Web users in New Zealand are today blacking out their profiles on social networking sites to highlight objections to a new copyright law that orders Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to disconnect any user or websites merely suspected of copyright infringements.

The photo blackout, which has extended to sites including Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, is just the first step in a week of protests. It will climax next Monday when websites are asked to take down their content for a day to demonstrate what life without Internet access would be like.

The protests are organized by the Creative Freedom Foundation, a group representing artists (which copyright laws supposedly protect). They are objecting to section 92 of the country's Copyright Amendment Act which is due to come into effect on February 28.

ISPs Forced to Take Immediate Action

The group says it doesn't support copyright infringement and has no problems with genuine offenders facing legal action. But it argues that the new law effectively forces Internet providers to cut access as soon as they hear a claim of infringement, rather than go to the expense of investigating the claim properly. That's because once an Internet provider becomes aware of such a claim, they are immediately held legally responsible for any copyright infringement themselves unless they take immediate action. (Source:

The CFF says this will lead to cases where people lose Internet access thanks to malicious claims. It points to a US study showing 25% of users unknowingly have malicious software on their computers which could leave their machines playing a part in illegal distribution networks. (Source:

'Third-rate legislation'

Supporters of the law say these claims are overstated and that there's nothing in the law to say Internet providers would have to act so aggressively in practice. The problem is that the relevant sections of the law appear far too vaguely worded.

Indeed, at the time the law went through New Zealand's legislature, then opposition MP Christopher Finlayson said "I think this bill is very much a patch-up job and very much what I would call third-rate law reform legislation." Ironically. Finlayson is now the country's Attorney General and insists there will be no delay to the law going into effect. (Source:

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