*Cross posted on Silicon Souls
Last week, those of you on Twitter may have noticed that many peoples avatars turned Black. Some thought it an error, a fault perhaps. But in fact this was a protest by a wide variety of people against an amendment to a Copyright law in my Native New Zealand.
So why what was the protest all about and why would some of the high profile twitter users like Stephen Fry be protesting in this manner against an amendment to a law in a small country on the far side of the planet?
The reason is this... Section 92 of the Copyright Amendment Act assumes Guilt Upon Accusation. In other words, if you are accused of a copyright infringement, then ISPs will be forced by law to cut you off.
So if the RIAA accuse you (note this is an accusation, not a trial that finds you guilty), New Zealanders will be punished by the ISPs. Not by the judiciary, after a trial, by a private business after a mere accusation.
There are some great media out there explaining why this is bad. They all basically boil down to the fact that if you commit any other crime, even much more heinous crimes like murder, rape or genocide even, you will get a fair trial and be punished AFTER being found guilty. If Section 92 of the Copyright Amendment Act goes through, then this changes and you will be able to be punished for a crime without a trial, without evidence, without a defence, nothing!
This is a fundamental change to the way justice operates in most western countries, including New Zealand. The whole “Innocent until proven guilty” goes out the window and Kiwi's are then guilty until proven innocent! And not for terrorism, murder, rape or other serious crimes, for allegedly breaking a copyright law. For downloading some tunes of the web. Maybe even for watching a movie or TV off YouTube, thetas a breach of copyright too. Heck, quoting text in your blog could be classified as a breach by some people and once an allegation is made section 92 will demand that you are cut off! Not trial, not lawyers, just cut off!
The concern I think non-New Zealanders have is that this sets a precedence for the rest of the world. Just as the DMCA has been copied all over the world (how that for irony?). The UK, USA and the rest of the world will find it easier to pass similarly draconian, human rights busting laws if they can quote nice little New Zealand as an example of this law “working”.
With all this in mind, an online protest was organised via http://creativefreedom.org.nz/blackout.html
and mainly Twitter. the #blackout hashtag was number one on twitter trends for days. Meaning it was the number one topic of discussion on Twitter. Some of the big names got onboard, most notably Stephen Fry the amazing British comedian, actor and technology junky!
People replaced their avatars on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere with black GIFs. I did and many many many other people did. The point being that if this law gets through, then anyone could have an internet blackout, they could be cut off from the internet without any judicial process.
Some will argue that “hey, it's just internet access; it's not like it's important”. But that just is not right in this day and age. When the internet goes down in my house and in any office I have worked in, it's the end of the world. I work from a home office, if I got cut off my income would be affected. I am not the only one, and lets not forget that people break copyright in offices everyday.
What happens if this law is passed and copies of it spring up in your country? Imagine the havoc it could cause. You work from home, your son downloads a CD from the internet (worth lets say $20). The RIAA spot this and cut off your access to the internet, now you can't work. Of course you didn't commit a crime, but you are punished without trial.
If there was a trial with evidence prior to a punishment then the facts could be shown and your livelihood would not be affected by an allegation!
What is interesting here also is that copyright is different from country to country, who's copyright law is being broken? The one in your country or the one in another country? So if the RIAA contact a NZ based ISP, will they cut the user off? Or only if a New Zealand rights holder complains?
What if I write a spurious (but legitimate looking) letter/email to an ISP saying you breached my copyright of.... say this blog post. The ISP will cut you off, no evidence required, not court case, no nothing. What if I accuse my business competitors? What a great way of getting rid of them. or maybe an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend?
What this comes down to is this, do you want to live in a country/world where you can be punished for a crime without evidence? We do not accept guilt upon accusation anywhere else in the criminal justice system, why on earth would we want to accept it over copyright.
So don't stand for it, visit http://creativefreedom.org.nz/blackout.html
and see what you can do. Visit sites like http://www.eff.org/
(USA) and http://www.openrightsgroup.org/
and make sure you stay informed to threats of this sort.
Also you can protest, you can lobby your representatives in government, you can blog, you can write letters, print leaflets, stand and shout on street corners. Me, I am starting with this blog post.