The ‘file-sharing’ argument has rattled around the courts, parliaments and media of the world for the last 40 years – remember ‘home recording will kill the music industry’ in 197-whatever (and how it didn’t kill the industry, although perhaps it should have)? Yesterday in New Zealand politics, things took a dark turn. A bill, the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill, was passed. On the face of it, this was nothing surprising – it criminalises the sharing of copyrighted material. Hardly the most heinous of crimes, but in line with the state’s intentions to protect property rights.
What is outrageous, is the attack on basic human rights when a suspected infringer is identified. Since the birth of liberal democracy, which New Zealand had a good claim to be until yesterday, one of the values enshrined in law, constitution or Bill of Rights has been the right to presumption of innocence.
This puts the burden of proof on those accusing a person of wrongdoing, and is an important part of our modern justice system – it protects all from frivolous and unjust prosecution.
The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill passed yesterday allows a content provider to accuse a suspected infringer of illegally sharing copyrighted content. The onus is then on the accused to show their innocence. The copyright owner is not required to prove their allegation – accusation alone is enough alone to begin legal proceedings. If innocence it not proved, punishment is handed out in the form of cutting off the user’s internet (as an aside, access to an internet connection is now considered a basic human right in some countries and protected under law – apparently we are not so enlightened in New Zealand).
Regardless of your view on copyright and illegal file-sharing, this approach of requiring the accused to prove their innocence, constitutes a significant attack on basic human rights – it opens the door for more legislation which puts the burden of proof on the accused.
We cannot allow this to happen, we cannot allow the law to stand, or we slide ever closer to a dictatorship which benefits the few.
More to come.