A large swatch of New Zealand’s political blogosphere shut down its websites for a half-day on Monday, February 23 in protest of a copyright law that could have required internet service providers from disconnecting users who download pirated materials like movies or music.
Instead of being greeted by analysis and commentary, visitors to many of New Zealand’s blogs were welcomed with stark black screen and the following words in white: This Website is Blacked Out.
This Saturday, February 28th, Section 92A of the Copyright Act is due to come into force.
This website has voluntarily been taken down in protest against this law, which will be used to disconnect New Zealanders from the internet based on accusations against copyright infringement, without a trial and without evidence held up to court scrutiny.
The blackout screens, distributed by the Creative Freedom Foundation, go on to explain that illegal downloads and copyright infringement should not be condoned, but a fair and just trial is a basic human right and the bill, as written, has the potential to unreasonably punish internet users. (Here is a good discussion on the legalities of Section 92 of the Copyright Amendment Act.)
The protest appeared to work as Prime Minister John Key announced he will stall the proposal for one month as he looks to forge a compromise with ISPs and copyright holders. If a solution cannot be found, Section 92 will be scrapped.
However, Key indicated that countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom now enforce similar versions of Section 92. One day, New Zealand may be required to meet international regulations.
Before the protest began, it was pointed out that this group of eclectic and politically divergent bloggers could not agree on anything — much less a law that was up before Parliament. Yet, the mood after the announcement of Section 92’s suspension was largely festive.
From No Minister:
To say we represent a diverse range of views is putting it mildly. Normally we disagree on everything. Even e=mc^2 can be regarded as a highly debatable proposition on our blogs.
So for us to all unite together, from across the political spectrum, to condemn S92A of the Copyright Act should send a signal as to how bad the law is. A law which can see people lose their Internet access on the basis of unproven allegations should have no place in the New Zealand statute books.
From Big News:
That's what happens when a group of people get a viral protest going, it gets support and gets into the mainstream media before midday and into the Aussie papers and into the Cabinet agenda.
Let’s stick for a second with the social media aspect of this issue:
From Oliver Woods:
What really is amazing is the fact that most media are attributing the backdown to the co-ordinated online ‘Blackout’ campaign by the excellent Creative Freedom Foundation. The issue had created an unlikely coalition of online activists from the left and the right… The widescale blog and website blackout demonstrated the influence that online citizen-journalists and bloggers can have. It reinforces the fact that websites are becoming an extremely valuable part of civil society that can speak with a united voice when it feels threatened.
He then goes on to explain why social media types shouldn’t be surprised by John Key’s response:
Few politicians in New Zealand have realised the power of social media (blogs, social networking and such like). John Key and a handful of National Party thinkers are the exception. 2007 and 2008 saw National construct successful colonies of supporters on Facebook, including a widescale campaign of encouraging activists and supporters to join the site. Check out National's frontpage and you can see how seriously they are taking social media. If you want to see how National's party membership campaign is working on Facebook and John Key's 12,000+ friends, check out his profile here.
Oswald Bastable’s Ranting finds it odd that certain radio journalists — and other mainstream media folks — still look down on bloggers who merely “post their opinions on subjects and then argue over them.”
Will these types ever admit that their gripe with us is that we are not paid-up card-carrying members of the Journo's union?
And to give credit where it's due- what a refresing change to have the powers that be actually listen! Some were concerned that this would be a diversion for more pressing issues, but really- on quick executive decision and it's dealt with!
Yet some bloggers feel the death of Section 92 of the Copyright Amendment has been greatly exaggerated. New Zealand’s recording industry — like elsewhere — claims to be suffering greatly from piracy. Industry figures assert that 95 out of every 100 songs downloaded from the internet in New Zealand come from illegal sources.
The Inquiring Mind references a Computerworld article that contains a recent letter written New Zealand’s recording industry (and leaked out) claiming a very similar version of this now stalled section could be agreed to in the near future.
From Adam Smith in The Inquiring Mind:
Reading the article and the letter provides little comfort to Adam that an outcome acceptable to those who protested will be reached, if a Code of Practice acceptable to the RIANZ [Recording Industry Association of New Zealand] is agreed.
Further, he is suspicious that the delay announced pending agreement on a Code of Practice means that the law will be implemented providing a Code of Practice is agreed. All that means it seems to Adam is that a Code of Practice, any Code of Practice will be acceptable to Government.
This is not what the campaign was about in Adam’s view.
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