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Facebook, Twitter and MySpace screens are going black as the numbers of objectors swell in protest against Draconian laws due to be introduced by the New Zealand Government.
NZ’s Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act 2008 will be added its Copyright Act 1994 and is intended to deal with digital rights issues. A laudable aim but it carries a ‘guilt upon accusation’ element which means that anyone accused of copyright infringement could have their Internet connection severed without a trial, without any evidence being held up for scrutiny by the courts.
The regulations, which become effective from February 28, are only aimed at telcos and ISPs but the wording could be used to describe anyone providing content on the Internet. Even if the law is limited to ISPs, it means that sites will have to be monitored and blocked if they prove to have contentious files for download. With almost 200m Web sites to police, the task facing the ISPs is impossible, as the UK Government decided when it debated and rejected similar actions.
Breaking the ‘innocent until proved guilty’ principle opens up a potential loophole for malevolent groups to bring down a service provider merely by setting up spoofed sites and informing the NZ police that illicit material is available via the ISP. The only way around this would be to monitor sites before allowing users to access them – an equally impossible task.
The Telecommunications Carriers Forum (TCF) has offered a draft code of practice to neutralise the worst aspects of the law but the fear is that ISPs could find themselves closed down with immediate effect and offline for weeks or months until the courts can deal with them.
Given that Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and so on all contain material that is arguably copyrighted, the prospect for online New Zealand looks black.