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Protesters Say Internet Law Stripping Rights

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Feb 19 NZPA - Protesters carrying blank signs sent a message to Parliament today that freedom of speech was being stifled by a copyright law and it should be dumped.

The Copyright Amendment Act comes into force on February 28.

Protesters say Section 92A of the law means material will have to be removed from the internet if an accusation of breach of copyright is made even if it is not proven.

About 200 people, including Internet Service Providers (ISPs), artists, musicians, writers, and bloggers -- most of them holding up plain black placards, and some with taped mouths -- protested and presented a petition at lunchtime.

The written version of the petition was signed by 148 but the on-line version garnered more than 10,000 signatures.

Some protesters have blacked out their webpages as part of a week of action.

Labour MP Clare Curran has drafted a member's bill overturning the section and will attempt to get Parliament to consider it.

The law was passed by the previous government in the pre-election legislative rush last year.

The offending clause was removed by a select committee, but was re-inserted by the minister responsible for the bill, Judith Tizard, when it returned to the House.

It was supported by all parties with the exception of the Greens and the Maori Party, though since then a number of MPs have expressed concern about the clause.

Those promoting the clause say it will effectively police widespread copyright abuse on the internet.

Its opponents argue that ISPs may have to close down sites even if the complaint is malicious -- for example, as a way to censor.

Creative Freedom Foundation director Bronwyn Holloway-Smith said her group formed when the law was "touted" as being in the interest of artists.

"We felt it was a poor law and artists needed to know about it."

Ms Holloway-Smith said her organisations did not condone copyright infringements.

"What this law may see is innocent people being punished for acts they haven't committed, it could see entire businesses being punished for the act of one user and obviously in the current economic climate that raises huge issues in terms of maintaining businesses."

Commerce Minister Simon Power yesterday said a code of practice being developed by the internet community would help implement the law.

Ms Holloway-Smith said that would not come into effect until around April but could not address the fundamental legal issue.

"What (it) doesn't do is change the fact this is still a guilt upon accusation law."

She hoped the minister would change his mind and look at alternatives such as a low cost copyright court similar to the Disputes Tribunal.

"If it goes through he will be responsible for removing New Zealanders' fundamental right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty."

United Future leader Peter Dunne accepted the petition. He compared the protest to those against the Electoral Finance Act and said Parliament took too long to listen.

"With section 92 we cannot afford to make the same mistake because it represents the same potential threat to freedom of speech that the electoral finance act in its own way did."

Mr Dunne said yesterday he had separate meetings with Mr Power and Prime Minister John Key over the issue.

"I am pushing them to heed the call... and dump section 92A altogether."

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