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Another alleged music pirate pinged under New Zealand's 'Skynet'

Date

Tom Pullar-Strecker

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A Vodafone New Zealand customer has been punished under the country's three-strikes Skynet copyright regime.

A Vodafone New Zealand customer has been punished under the country's three-strikes Skynet copyright regime.

The New Zealand Copyright Tribunal is under the gun for failing to look into a claim that a brain injury prevented a person accused of online piracy from understanding their rights.

The tribunal ordered the unnamed Vodafone customer to pay Recorded Music New Zealand NZ$738.96 ($670.50) in costs, damages and "deterrent" payments after their account was used to illegally share music, including Radioactive by Imagine Dragons.

The account holder was the 18th person to be punished under the country's three-strikes "Skynet" copyright regime. It was designed to provide streamlined justice for record labels and movies studios seeking to tackle online piracy.

The regime is one of several being investigated by the Australian government as it tries to tackle online piracy at the urging of copyright holders and the film industry. The NZ tribunal has the power to award up to NZ$15,000 ($13,600) in compensation.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has suggested film studios could sue people who downloaded their content illegally. 

Australian author and copyright champion Frank Moorhouse said the crackdown was a bad idea.

After the tribunal wrote to the NZ account holder explaining how they could defend the claim, it received a handwritten letter purportedly written on the behalf of the account holder by their brother.

The letter requested a phone call and said the account holder had medical evidence of a brain injury and needed "correspondence portrayed via a house meeting" as they could not read well.

However, the tribunal did not refer further to the claim in its judgment and decided the case "on the papers", saying neither party had requested a hearing and it did not consider it necessary to convene one.

In the letter, the account holder said they knew nothing about the piracy and had had travellers and six new flatmates, each of whom had their own computers, staying at the property.

Auckland Brain Injury Association manager Steve Jenkins said that although that was not a legal defence to the alleged offence, it was little disappointing the tribunal had not inquired further about the brain injury.

Jenkins said it was rare, but possible for brain injuries to leave people unable to read well but able to communicate well verbally.

"I met a gentleman the other day who had a medical brain injury who has an important job and is very articulate but who couldn't even read a label on a bottle," Jenkins said.

His experience was that people didn't tend to use brain injuries as an excuse, he said.

Recorded Music NZ general counsel Kristin Bowman said that for privacy reasons it couldn't know the identity of people it was bringing cases against or meet them before taking enforcement action. Warnings were instead sent to internet account holders by their internet providers.

She said the tribunal "could have followed through" the brain injury claim, but questioned why the account holder couldn't have asked one their six flatmates to read out its letter.

"That is ultimately for the tribunal to manage," she said.

Recorded Music NZ, which represents the major record labels, faced criticism last year when another of the copyright-accused punished by the tribunal claimed to have been a soldier serving in Afghanistan at the time of the offences.

The latest "three-strikes" piracy case is the first to be ruled on by the tribunal for 11 months.

Bowman said in December that the industry body had decided to take a break from bringing cases before the tribunal, citing the high cost and frustration over the "insufficient" penalties handed down to alleged offenders.

She said today that the industry body had decided to bring further cases because music piracy remained a problem and it didn't have other tools to deal with it. A Ministry of Justice spokesman said another seven cases were pending.

Recorded Music NZ had commissioned research to work out why people were still pirating music despite the growth in legal online music services, Bowman said.

Those services included free and "all you can eat" subscription services such as Spotify, Radio and Pandora.

Although it had only the preliminary results, it appeared there was an element of some people "not giving a damn", she said.

15 comments so far

  • "In the letter, the account holder said they knew nothing about the piracy and had had travellers and six new flatmates, each of whom had their own computers, staying at the property."

    This is "not a legal defense to the alleged offence"

    IP and copyright laws are being made out of all proportion and reasonableness. In some countries (US soon to be Oz?) a few files being shared can amount to $100,000's of fines. And showing that some one else committed the crime is no defense.

    Commenter
    Peter
    Location
    Oz
    Date and time
    August 13, 2014, 5:39PM
    • so then peter you name is on the rego papers of your car...someone else steals it and use it to ram raid a shop.cctv footage couldnt really see who did it..you then peter are the one jailed......?

      Commenter
      skeptic
      Location
      perth
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 7:14AM
    • Any right-thinking person should think it is outrageous that these New Zealand laws make it "not a legal defence" that you didn't actually commit the crime!

      Apparently in New Zealand now, not committing the crime doesn't matter, as long as the Hollywood studios get their pound of flesh.

      All hail to our new overlords.

      Commenter
      John
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 8:59AM
    • Did you really compare sharing a few digital files (not removing since the originals are still there) with stealing a car and ram-raiding? Yep, out of all proportion and reasonableness indeed!

      Commenter
      Dexta
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 1:27PM
  • Too little effort has gone into analyzing the truth of the content industries lobbyists claims of doom gloom and lost profits and there has been too much preferential treatment of these groups by government and the law.
    If you or I tried to do what they do we'd find ourselves being charged with malicious prosecution based on the very flimsy evidence and extremely exaggerated damages claimed.
    It's about time someone explained to these clowns that the people who download and share music and videos will either buy more than they are claimed to steal or won't pay for anything. So they are either making the content providers more money than the would have gotten otherwise or not costing them a cent. People who would rather steal than paying for something won't pay! so expecting massive profits to appear if all piracy suddenly stopped is really stupid.
    Here's a suggestion stop treating people like criminals and offer them a decent opportunity to be honest. Stop banding together to take people to court and band together to offer a GLOBAL subscription licence. I would happily pay $20 a year for the right to download and share any content I want from anywhere legally be it the Pirate Bay or Itunes. The number of people who buy such a licence every year would mean a profit that far exceeds any real damages caused by the people who will never pay.

    Commenter
    Perplexed
    Location
    Australia
    Date and time
    August 13, 2014, 6:01PM
    • So exactly how many Australian and new Zealand voters would bote for "tough new sanctions" to stop piracy. The record labels and software companies quite happily charge double for the same thing in Australia compared to the US. The profits they make here attract no Australian tax as the big multi nationals fiddle the tax system . Seems like at worst corrupt at best just stupid and ill informed government politicians listening to vested interest lobbyists paid for by the massive profits they earn tax free and suck out of Australia. Until these companies agree to pay fair AUSTRALIAN taxes AND charge fair price es the government should look the other way.

      Commenter
      Democracy?
      Date and time
      August 13, 2014, 6:13PM
      • What an interesting idea. Cost per item is profit of company (that tax was paid on) and if generous plus local only expenses divided by number of items sold. Since there were no overheads in selling this item this cost per item is definitely greater than that which would have been accrued otherwise.

        Commenter
        Hacked off
        Location
        Hanging out in Canberra
        Date and time
        August 13, 2014, 10:44PM
    • It would be commercial suicide for the ISP's to allow this to go through without a big fight. I would cancel my $100 a month high speed cable and 500Gig allowance the minute they decided to stop me downloading what I wanted and go to another ISP that would look the other way.

      Commenter
      Scotty P
      Date and time
      August 13, 2014, 10:30PM
      • I feel so sorry for all those overpaid filthy rich actors and singers and record execs.

        Commenter
        Max
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        August 14, 2014, 7:36AM
        • Instead of Brandis passing laws to make this illegal to benefit Murdoch and Poxtel. He should do nothing and it won't be illegal. Borrowing is not stealing.

          Commenter
          borrow not steal
          Date and time
          August 14, 2014, 8:00AM

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