A demonstration in Parliament grounds on May 1 was supposed to highlight objections to the amended Copyright Act and its provisions to combat illegal online file-sharing. In the event this proved a minor feature of the proceedings, with much of the time taken up by organiser and entrepreneur Christopher Wingate, advocating broader attention to government and judicial accountability.
The only specific reference to the copyright legislation was in a speech of a little over five minutes' length by Green MP Gareth Hughes, who excused himself and departed as soon as he had finished.
Noting that the scale of fines for a file-sharing offence has still not been established, Hughes suggested a "zero-dollar fine" be levied "if it's a [work] you could access [legally] in America but you can't here, simply because you're in New Zealand."
Hughes repeated his suggestion during the third-reading debate that there should be a broader and deeper examination of the whole concept of copyright in the internet era. Instead of "ramming through" legislation under urgency, he said, "maybe we should stop, have a cup of tea and ask ourselves what copyright is."
The legislation, he said, had started from the premise that the current view of copyright is good and enforcement needs to be strengthened. This is not necessarily the best way of fostering creativity among Kiwi musicians and other creative workers, he said.
Hughes remarked on the number of people commenting through social media in real time on the final stages of debate last month and tuning their televisions to the Parliament channel to watch until midnight. "It was the first time in my 14 months in Parliament I got the feeling that people were actually bothering to get involved in a debate," he told the 50 or 60 attendees at the protest meeting.
The Greens were the only party to vote against the Amendment Bill, Hughes reminded the protestors. "The Labour party thundered about how they were fundamentally opposed to [suspension of an offender's internet access], then they voted for the Bill." The suspension provision has for the time being been held in abeyance, but can be brought into effect by an Order in Council.
Suspension is a disproportionate response to a civil, not criminal, offence, Hughes said, and despite late rewording of the clause on the burden of proof, the legislation still effectively pronounces a defendant "guilty until you prove your innocence. This is a fundamental change to New Zealand law," he said.
Wingate complained at length of poor treatment at the hands of a major bank, government officials and judiciary over a land deal in the 1990s, citing it as an argument that Crown and judicial immunity should be abolished.
Attendees listened politely but afterwards expressed some discontent that the proceedings had been diverted away from the file-sharing and copyright question, One Facebook poster, however, contended that more fundamental matters of law are at stake and it is a mistake to hammer a single issue. "Whenever most people hear [copyright-centred complaints] they will immediately think 'well they just wanna [sic] download free stuff'. The problem is a lot deeper than this," he wrote.
Another independently organised demonstration is provisionally planned for August and the organisers of this one promise a more on-topic discussion, including addresses from members of the NZ Pirate Party.
A small but more successful demonstration took place on Sunday in Dunedin, organisers report, and one picture on the yfrog site shows a small gathering in central Auckland. Computerworld's efforts to elicit further information met with no response.