14 November 2010

Cyberspace December 2010

Classified adverts

The theory isn’t new, and the tactic is really just a development, not evolution, but the government is interested in your online boasting. Ars Technica (http://arstechnica.com) recently published a document said to be from the USA Department of Homeland Security. Social networking “provides an excellent vantage point for FDNS to observe the daily life of beneficiaries and petitioners... Once a user posts online, they create a public record and timeline of their activities.” It’s easy to see that these sorts of things will weed out fraudulent engagements, marriages, social security dependencies and so on. I despise people who carry on these sorts of activities, but for the rest of us: do you really need to do the modern equivalent of taking out a classified advert to tell the world at large what you did on the weekend? Do you?



New Zealand has the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill 2010 before parliament at the moment. It aims to solve the problem of “lack of public knowledge that file sharing may infringe copyright” by amending the Copyright Act 1994! Yep, that’ll fix it. Three notices to the account holder may be issued, noting that infringing activity will be logged by their ISP (yes, the ISP are now the police). After three notices are issued the copyright holder may apply to the Copyright Tribunal for a compensation award (up to $15,000) and the District Court may order suspension of internet access for up to six months. “Claims will generally heard on the papers” but a hearing may be requested. Lawyers are only allowed with leave, which looks unlikely to be given. There is a mechanism for challenging notices, and they expire after 9 months.

So the account holder will always suffer the penalty. I wonder how that will affect group house arrangements for uni students, or parents with teenagers? At least with camera speeding offences you can nominate the responsible driver for the penalty. ISPs can charge the copyright holders for any extra work but the regulations may prescribe those rates, which may be uncommercial.

It seems to ignore the problem of actual damage. File sharing is where material “is downloaded, made available, or transferred to another.” Infringment means an incident of file sharing. A song costs AUD$1.69 on iTunes usually. Are we going to see these proportionate awards for damages? And “made available” may mean that no damage occurred at all. Will damages be awarded for no damage?

Some parts show some thought, such as enforced delays between the notices to give the account holder time to try to stop the problem. However the challenge procedure is a problem, since it must be done within a week (bad luck if you’re travelling or busy, and your kids and housemates are at home all day on holidays...). And if you lose your internet for six months be careful you don’t have your online accounts closed for lack of use.

What makes this Bill completely unacceptable is the ability to suspend an internet account. It is, for many people, the removal of a basic utility just as important as electricity. Tough if you’re a small business operator with kids or enjoy working from home every now and then, or share a group house and study using the Internet, or even just store your documents “in the cloud”. You’re going to have think very very carefully about who is using your internet and for what purposes. Perhaps we’ll see some decent routers with built in protection, but that will definitely be at a cost. Of course, if it does make it into law then there will be the obvious temptation to bring it here.

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