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New Zealand Puts Onus on File Sharers to Prove Their Innocence

New Zealand’s parliament passed a new law prohibiting the illegal sharing of files by Internet users that puts the onus on those accused to prove their innocence, while not allowing them to hire lawyers.

Lawmakers gave a third and final reading to the so-called Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill today. A breakdown on the vote wasn’t immediately available from the parliamentary information service.

The bill “aims to provide copyright owners with a fast-track alternative to existing remedies,” the Commerce Committee said in a recommendation to pass the legislation. “We have attempted to strike a balance between the rights of copyright holders to have their intellectual property rights protected, and the reality that the Internet has now allowed for greater access to copyrighted work through file sharing.”

Under the law, scheduled to take effect Sept. 1, copyright owners will be required to send evidence of alleged infringement to Internet Service Providers, who would then issue warnings to the account holder. If the warnings are ignored, the copyright owners can file a claim with the Copyright Tribunal, which can issue fines of as much as NZ$15,000 ($12,000) for each violation.

The five-member tribunal will generally make a decision based on written submissions and must consent to a hearing, if one is requested. If the tribunal agrees to hold a hearing, representatives won’t be allowed except for specified cases, such as a corporation can be represented by an officer or an employee.

Infringement Presumed

Representatives may not be lawyers, according to the legislation, unless the tribunal grants permission.

An infringement notice will allow the tribunal to presume that illegal file sharing occurred unless the account holder provides evidence or reasons why it shouldn’t be considered so, according to the law.

The new law tightens requirements for the suspension of Internet services of account holders, requiring copyright holders to get a court order. A judge can order the suspension of the Internet service for as long as six months.

New Zealand’s Green Party objected to that proposal.

“There is a danger of heavy-handed regulation for a problem that may only be temporary,” the Green Party said in the committee’s report. “Citizens are not denied the right to use their telephones because they happened to be used in the commission of a crime.”

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