Three strikes laws untenable in practice

02 Sep 2011

As New Zealand joins the ranks of countries implementing so-called ‘three strikes’ policies I wonder how the schemes will work in practice.

The theory is eminently clear by the working title. Breach copyright rules three times and you’ll face a hefty fine and/or a block on your Internet access.

But what happens in multi-user households? Will everyone have to suffer because your teenage child insists on grabbing music from pirate sites, or will you have to offer said offspring up as a sacrifice to the regulatory gods?

What of your mother-in-law, who’s just discovered she can steal books on her e-reader. Will that leave the rest of the family devoid of Web access? And what of the user who downloads the odd piece of content on their work computer? With many corporations now accepting that it’s better to let their staff access social networks and other personal sites from the office, it could prove to be a real problem.

Then there are the policy decisions that still need to be made regarding mobile internet access. If my fixed line broadband is cut off or its speed restricted, I can simply switch to a dongle or access content direct on my smartphone.

Critics of the schemes abound. Paul Brislen, chief executive of the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand, said the new law is designed to “support a business model that no longer works in the internet age,” the NZ Herald reports.

In June, United Nations special rapporteur Frank La Rue noted his alarm at the prospect of Web users being cut off. He said such moves are “disproportionate” and violate global civil and political rights.

ISPs in the US have attempted to dodge the ball with a voluntary code covering copyright infringement, however the scheme has faced heavy criticism for failing to take shut-downs off the table entirely.

Plans to introduce three-strikes rules in the UK appear to have fallen by the wayside after fierce opposition by BT and TalkTalk in 2010. However, the country’s High Court recently ordered BT to block access to a movie sharing site it claims infringes copyright, hinting at a strategy of pursuing infringing websites rather than users.

I could go on, but the point is that cutting people off from the Internet is simply not an option in an era when governments across the world are seeking to bolster their coffers via the digital economy.

That’s not to say copyright should be a free-for-all, but rather that more work is needed to bring the laws governing usage up to date.

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