Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill

Justice Minister Simon Power had a day of two halves yesterday. The good: he announced a crackdown on the legal aid system (the Criminal Bar Association is “appalled” at the changes, so they must be good). The bad: he announces that Parliament was to rush through the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill under urgency.

While the Bill is being passed under urgency  – with the reason for the indecent haste unexplained and unjustified – it will have an easy ride through, with 111 of 122 MPs voting for it. Only the Greens, Chris Carter and Hone Harawira opposed passing the Bill under urgency. The move was supported by National, ACT, the Maori Party, United Future, Labour and Progressives.

So the substance of the Bill was uncontroversial for most MPs, despite some semantic gymnastics from Labour MPs attempting to explain why they originally supported it in harsher form than present, then opposed a more reasonable version, and are now supporting it again.

There is no question that the use of urgency for this Bill is an abuse of process. The file sharing reforms have kicked around for several years, since controversy erupted after first being introduced (in more draconian form) by the previous Labour Government. There is no explanation for the sudden need to race it through now.

It is also clear that some MPs still have a poor understanding of the issues. For example, in the House last night National MP Katrina Shanks made bizzare comments suggesting that any file sharing was illegal, and that people who choose to install file-sharing software on their computers must be doing so to infringe copyright. I just so happened to be downloading the latest version of LibreOffice using µTorrent when she said that…

On the substance of the bill, there is no question that it is a substantial improvement over the original proposal. In particular, the original draconian termination provision is now only available to a Court, and only if the judge considers:

“suspension of the account holder’s account is justified and appropriate in the circumstances, given the seriousness of the infringing”

This and other changes mitigate much of the “guilt on accusation” stance of the original Bill (and I do wonder whether many of the Twitterati realise this, given some of the incorrect and alarmist comments flying around), although it remains less than ideal.