New Zealand’s “Three-Strikes” to End Public Wi-Fi?

New Zealand’s “Three-Strikes” to End Public Wi-Fi?

The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill, though it repeals the controversial Section 92A of the Copyright Amendment (New Technologies) Act, still holds the owner of an Internet connection liable for all actions carried out by any user of that connection.

Last week we reported how New Zealand had passed a bill that puts in place a “three-strike” graduated response system to combat illegal file-sharing, and already locations that provide customers with free Wi-Fi service are wondering what the new law means for them.

“It’s been hugely successful since we put it [free Wi-Fi] in three or four months ago, you’ll never see more laptops in your life,” said Rob Parry, a McDonald’s owner in the NZ town of Rotorua.

He said he’s not sure if the law would hold his business liable for infringing customers, and would be “mortified” if it did, but in any event says his IT dept is on the case and will let him know if the service needs to be curtailed in any way to comply with the new law.

The law has its roots back in 2008 when the Copyright Amendment (New Technologies) Act was first passed. It was scheduled to take effect March 27th, 2009, but the ensuing public outcry and the refusal of at least one ISP to participate forced New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to throw out the controversial Section 92A, aka “threes-strikes” response.

“An ISP must adopt and reasonably implement a policy that provides for termination, in appropriate circumstances, of the account with that Internet service provider of a repeat infringer,” reads Section 92a.

The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill repeals Section 92A of the Copyright Act and replaces it with a new process that initially suspends the power to disconnect repeat infringers.

The problem is, and always will be when it comes to holding an IP address and not actual users responsible, you’re going to inevitably hold multiple, and likely innocent people, responsible for the actions of a few.

The new law still means that the owner of an Internet connection is still liable for all actions carried out by any user of that connection, meaning that many public Wi-Fi services will have to be severely curtailed or eliminate altogether.

Andre Jansen, manager of Fun Factor in the same town of Rotorua, says he thinks the bill should be limited to home Internet connections.

“There should be an amendment to confine the bill to home users and not to businesses,” he said. “With big commercial businesses that are using 40 different computers, it will be like finding a needle in a haystack tracing who was downloading.”

A similar “three-strikes” regime was passed in the UK last April via the Digital Economy Act, and that too means a de facto ban on public Wi-Fi.

When it comes down to it, unless you treat business Internet connections differently from those at home you’re going to lead to an end to public Wi-Fi as we know it. The ensuing decrease in the free and open flow of information in the public sphere would unquestionably be a much greater harm to society than decreased CD sales ever could be.

Stay tuned.

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