The Copyright Act has recently been amended to give copyright holders a new option to advise an internet account holder that the account is being used for copyright infringement.
Copyright holders usually cannot tell who the account holder is, so the notices are sent to internet service providers and then forwarded to the internet account holders.
If multiple infringements from the same internet account are detected, it could lead (after a number of warnings and a weighing of the evidence) to a penalty from the Copyright Tribunal.
Background on the new law
The new law is intended to keep pace with technology by providing a more practical way for creators to discourage copying of their music, movies, books and software on “file sharing” networks without permission or payment for their work.
Many of us find inspiration in great music. We are thrilled by the Lord of the Rings. And we immerse ourselves in the latest games, re-arranging the lounge so that we can unleash our inner Jedi in Kinect Star Wars.
The success of digital app stores like the Xbox Live Marketplace and the Apple Store suggests that creators thrive in environments where their works are less likely to be copied against their will and without payment.
People understand this and most of us are perfectly willing to pay for the creative works we enjoy.
However, the new law does mean that an internet account holder now has a level of responsibility not only for their own internet use, but also for everyone else who uses the internet connection. That means a new level of accountability for what family members, flatmates and staff do online.
Before we suggest some practical steps for internet account holders, it is useful to understand the basics of peer to peer file sharing, which is the primary focus of the new law.
What is peer to peer file sharing?
The “peers” are just computers, so “peer to peer” means “computer to computer”. For example, instead of connecting to a website, two people’s personal computers would connect directly to each other over the internet.
The “files” are computer files, like music, movies, books, or software. The “sharing” is sending a digital copy of a file from one computer to another over the internet.
Putting that together, peer to peer file sharing is copying files from one personal computer to another over the internet. It could be the same files you can get from a big website, but instead of visiting the website, you connect directly to someone else’s personal computer.
Sometimes peer to peer file sharing is perfectly legal and very useful – it depends which files are being shared. But people need to know what they’re doing because there’s a dark side to it too.
Peer to peer file sharing software is the most common tool for people to file-share music and movies without permission or payment.
With peer to peer software, people sometimes don’t realise when it’s been configured to share their files with the public, which could lead to inadvertent copyright infringement. There are also many cases of malware being distributed through peer to peer file sharing.
Suggestions for internet account holders
This article suggests some simple steps for households and small businesses to consider. Larger organisations may also find these useful as a starting point.
Step One: Set clear expectations about internet use
The person who pays the bills for the internet connection will want to be sure it’s not being used unlawfully. That's their right, and their responsibility.
That means internet account holders should be sure they know and trust everyone who uses their internet connection. Everyone who uses the internet connection should be informed about the new law, and the account holder should make sure that the expectation that the internet won't be used unlawfully is clearly understood.
Many households already set clear expectations about what’s acceptable internet use or not. A ban on unlawful file sharing is just another part of that, along with how many hours and what time of the day, permitted websites and activities, and keeping safe and secure.
And it’s similar for businesses; they should make their policy clear to their staff. Chapman Tripp has published some practical tips for businesses to take.
Step Two: Cover the Internet security basics
Internet account holders should make sure that every part of the network they are responsible for has the security basics covered. That includes wireless internet connections, and all the people and devices that connect to the internet account.
Covering these basics is important for many reasons. It keeps personal and confidential information safer, and computers healthy.
No one would want their computer and internet connection being taken over and used, without their knowledge, to spam and scam people. It’s more important than ever not to have someone sitting next door using the wireless internet connection without the account holder knowing it.
Fortunately the basics of keeping secure and in control are easy. A previous article, Take Control of Your Privacy, has details of the most important steps to take.
Step Three: Remove unwanted peer to peer file sharing software
Internet account holders who don't want peer to peer file sharing software on the computers that use their internet connection can make that part of the expectations they set (see Step One, above).
They can also check whether this software is already installed, and remove it. The exact details vary depending on the operating system, but the steps are similar. Check the list of installed programs, and remove any that you don’t want. Here's how to uninstall a program in Windows 7.
Some examples of software to look for are BitTorrent, µTorrent, Vuze, BitComet, FrostWire, LimeWire, DC++, and eMule. There are many others, and the list keeps changing, so if there is something unfamiliar in the list of installed programs, it’s best to do a web search to find out what it is.
This is a useful step, but it’s worth knowing that some peer to peer software is designed so that it does not “register” itself with the operating system.
That means uninstalling obvious peer to peer software does not guarantee that there's none being used.
That is one of the reasons why clear expectations are really important, because unless the internet account holder is willing to invest significant time in locking things down, people who don't understand those expectations will probably find ways around technical steps.
Step Four: Consider monitoring or locking down internet use
If an internet account holder would like to do more, there are additional options to consider.
Internet account holders can monitor any internet usage data that is provided by their internet service provider, and ask their internet service provider to prevent access to well known peer to peer file sharing services for them (if they offer this service). As an alternative, organisations and expert computer users might also block peer to peer file sharing by configuring their own firewall.
Another option is to install family safety software on all the computers in a household.
This software lets a responsible person monitor or block certain computer use. It’s quite easy to set up, but it does take a bit of time to do it properly. Two examples of family safety software that are free to download are K9 Web Protection and Windows Live Family Safety.
Again, because they’re not bullet proof, these techniques work best if they are combined with clear expectations about internet use.
What if I get a notice?
The new law defines three types of infringement notices that an internet account holder could receive if suspected copyright infringement is detected at their internet address. The three types of notices are detection notices, warning notices, and enforcement notices. The law requires notices to provide information about the suspected copyright infringement, and the process to challenge notices if you think there's been a mistake.
If you receive an infringement notice, you need to take it seriously.
Make sure others using the internet account know you've received it, and get their help to make sure you've followed all the steps in this article.
If you think there has been a mistake, read the notice carefully and follow the instructions to challenge the notice.
Be aware that scammers may try to take advantage of the new law. Check carefully that the notice and any instructions on it are legitimate. It should be from your internet service provider, and it should not ask you for any passwords or credit card details.
The introduction of new copyright law makes it timely to refresh expectations about internet use at home and at work, and to make sure the internet security basics are covered.
It's helpful to understand a bit about the role the law plays in helping to protect people who work on books, music, movies and software that we enjoy. Most people want to support creators, not rip them off. Knowing these basics about the purpose of the new law helps to explain the expectation not to infringe copyright.
By Waldo Kuipers, Corporate Affairs Manager, Microsoft New Zealand Ltd
If you would like further information, the following independent websites may be of interest.
InternetNZ and Netsafe
Information about the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act
Ministry of Economic Development
Information about copyright law and file-sharing in New Zealand
Three strikes? Keep calm and carry on ..., including what to do if you are sent an infringement notice