New Zealand proposes "guilty until proven innocent" copyright law to punish accused infringers

New Zealand's three-strikes Internet law is back. Under this proposed copyright law, people who are accused without proof of multiple copyright infringements can eventually face disconnection from the Internet, along with their families. A substantively similar law was passed and then rescinded in 2009, after enormous public outcry. The parliamentary committee responsible for the legislation describes it as being based on the presumption of guilt (not innocence, as is customary in democratic societies).
Such fines would be levied by a Copyright Tribunal after a particular account holder racked up several notices, and these notices would adopt a "guilty until proven innocent" approach. As the committee report puts it, "an infringement notice establishes a presumption that infringement has occurred, but this would be open to rebuttal where an account holder had valid reasons, in which case a rights holder would have to satisfy the tribunal that the presumption was correct. We consider that such a change would fulfill more effectively the aim of having an efficient 'fast-track' system for copyright owners to obtain remedies for infringements."

It's hard to argue with the logic of speed here; creating a presumption of liability certainly will "fast-track" the process, though concerns about accuracy remain. As a New Zealand legal blogger noted this week, almost one-third of all New Zealand copyright litigation fails because rightsholders can't actually show they own the copyright and that the copyright is governed by New Zealand law. And Google has previously indicated that large percentages of the infringement claims it routinely receives are defective in some way.

InternetNZ, which runs the top-level .nz Internet domain, said in a statement that the new presumption of liability "reverses the burden of proof in the regime by saying that rights owners' notices will be considered conclusive evidence of infringement, with alleged infringers having to prove they have not done so. This reversal of proof is not a welcome development, and our initial view is that it should not be passed by Parliament."

New Zealand P2P proposal: guilty until proven innocent

(Image: Blackout, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from leighblackall's photostream)