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Ministry of Economic Development says “ISPs” not liable for copyright infringement

Posted on September 19, 2011

[This article has been corrected. Please see explanatory note at the end.]

Liability under the new copyright law

One of the issues that we and many others have with the new copyright law is that it unfairly penalises people for the actions of others. You're either an IPAP (a very tight definition of ISP) or an account holder, and if you're an account holder you're liable for the actions of anyone using that internet account.

This means that hotels will be liable for the actions of their guests, universities for the actions of students, the person paying the bill will be liable for their flatmates, and you'd be better be careful about which of your guests you let use your internet while they visit your house.

Ministry of Economic Development advises differently

However, it seems that the Ministry of Economic Development has a different interpretation of the law. The owner of a homestay, concerned that as the account holder he would be liable for his guests, recently contacted the Ministry of Development.

The advice he received from the Ministry was that if he is providing internet services but does not meet the requirements to be an IPAP under section 122, then he must be an ISP and would be safe from liability according to section 92B.

Furthermore, if he received an infringement notice he just had to respond and say that he ran a homestay and that would be the end of it. As he observed, "What's to stop anyone claiming that their house is a homestay?"

Our interpretation

We don't find this interpretation particularly convincing (nor did we find it convincing when the NZCS made a very similar argument in their submission (PDF) to the MED).

The intent of the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Act seems to be to catch everyone. If we accept the MED interpretation, the definition of ISP in the Copyright Act is so wide that anyone who shared their internet connection with another would thereby be able to claim immunity under it. The law would be fatally undermined.

While we think that this wouldn't be a bad thing, as it would remove liability from account holders who shared their internet and thus avoid the problem of punishing people for the actions of others, it seems clear that this is not the intention of the law makers.

Ultimately this argument will be tested at the Copyright Tribunal and possibly in court, but for now we caution against relying on this advice from the Ministry of Economic Dvelopment. This means that you should assume that the account holder will be liable for any infringing file sharing performed over their internet connection.

[Correction: The article as originally posted said that the advice was from the Ministry of Justice. The MoJ contacted us to deny giving advice to anyone. We followed up with our original source and managed to establish that the advice was actually from the Ministry of Economic Development. We apologise for the error.]

Posted by Thomas Beagle

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  1. Rather than have it “tested in court” I hate to say this maybe a register of accommodation houses or those exempt?


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