Yet Another Court Rules That Digital Data Is Not Property

from the pure-information dept

Back in March, we reported on an interesting case where a UK court ruled that information stored electronically is not property. Now senior judges in New Zealand have agreed (found via @superglaze), as the Lexology site explains:
Jonathan Dixon, the Queenstown bouncer who accessed CCTV footage of the England Rugby Captain in a bar during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, appealed his conviction for dishonestly obtaining property on the basis that the digital data did not come under the definition of 'property' in the Crimes Act. The New Zealand Court of Appeal yesterday agreed (but substituted his conviction with one of dishonestly obtaining a benefit).
Lexology goes on to explain:
The accepted legal position is that confidential information is not property, but protected by the law from abuse, as a matter of 'conscience' arising from the circumstances in which the information was obtained. The New Zealand Court of Appeal considered that a computer file's "stored sequence of bytes available to a computer program or operating system… cannot meaningfully be distinguished from pure information", and therefore was not 'property' for the purposes of the Crimes Act.
Although two court cases do not make a definitive answer, it's significant that they were in different, albeit related, jurisdictions, and that the judges based their decisions on very different legislation. It certainly adds fuel to the already heated debate about whether it is possible in any sense to "steal" digital files containing copyright material.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    jackn, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 1:21pm

    So, copyrights are a thing of the past? They might want to think a little harder on this one.

     

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  2.  
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    aem, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 1:22pm

    Yes!!! if it isn't considered property guess who will be fighting the hardest to get that ruling overturned? lol

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 1:34pm

    Silver lining!

    All DATA has now been declared "NOT PROPERTY" of the government either!

    Now... since all Music and Video are in a "DATA" format... download away folks! Its NOT PROPERTY!

    Lets see how far this can go with these idiots!

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 1:38pm

    This sounds like a civil matter between the owner of the CCTV equipment and the fellow that stole the video.

    I don't see the connection between a UK court and a New Zealand court. The UK court has to answer to EU rulings and the New Zealand court doesn't. I do like the fact both courts reaffirmed that a production is not property. This should help keep copyright in its proper place.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 1:44pm

    So the data on the hard drives that the NZ police took from the raid on Dotcom's home and then gave a copy to the US FBI wasn't property that the NZ prosecution in the case could now argue in their further appeals against Dotcom that's stated that his property was illegally taken to the UK.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 1:45pm

    Re:

    oops typo - taken to the US NOT to the UK.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 1:58pm

    Re: Silver lining!

    You get all the 0's and I'll get all the 1's and we can divvy them up later.

     

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  8.  
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    kiwirob (profile), Jul 24th, 2014 @ 2:32pm

    Re:

    New Zealand law is based on English Common Law. Up until 2003 the highest court for New Zealand was the Privy Council which is in London. It is very common for high level appeals cases to reference decisions from UK, Canada and Australian cases and Judges to apply principals found in these particular jurisdictions in New Zealand. So if UK, Australia and Canada all say if something quacks like a duck it must be a duck, New Zealand courts will typically find it to be a duck also.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 2:32pm

    Soo ... does that mean that, according to UK and NZ law, crypto currencies are not property either, meaning we are all legally free to joink them from each other with no repercussions?

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 3:34pm

    the only ones that refer to digital files being copied as being stolen are the entertainment industries heads and the lawyers involved in copyright infringement cases. it is then used to try to make the crimes seem to be x20 at least and is therefore worthy of an inexcusably long jail sentence and massive 'out of all logic and proportion ' fine for the 'perpetrator!!

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 4:25pm

    Re: Re:

    yep, but it will also throw the prosecutors case out the window.

    It is hard to bring criminal charges for theft when it is not property.

    Good luck with your extradition order there US.

     

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  12.  
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    kiwirob (profile), Jul 24th, 2014 @ 5:22pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Unfortunately the charges are not "theft" they are "conspiracy to commit" charges including money laundering, racketeering, copyright infringing and aiding and abetting criminal copyright infringement.

    Without the aiding and abetting criminal copyright infringement the rest of the conspiracy charges disappear but without the conspiracy to commit money laundry and conspiracy to commit racketeering there is no legal basis to extradite from NZ to the USA (direct copyright infringement is not an offence in the extradition treaty between the countries).

    Conspiracy to commit copyright infringement I don't think has every been tried before in a prosecution with the Dotcom defence referring to it as 3rd party copyright infringement as a made up law that doesn't exist on the books. The aiding and abetting criminal copyright infringement charges are also a perversion of how aiding and abetting laws have historically been applied and given the laws have never been applied in this way in the past it's virtually impossible to show Dotcom et.al. possessed a criminal mind necessary for the prosecution when they believed the DMCA Safe Harbor provisions protected them form liability.

    That is why the DOJ appears to be hell bent on tying up all Dotcom's assets so he can not pay for a suitable legal challenge for the new application of laws the DOJ dreamed up in this case. The NZ courts have taken a more balanced approach and let Dotcom resources to challenge the legal validity of the process to date. This is probably due to the lack of revolving doors between the NZ Court system and the media industries to date ;-)

     

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  13.  
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    kiwirob (profile), Jul 24th, 2014 @ 5:26pm

    Re:

    The judge specified that the hard disks where not to be given to the FBI without further consultation with the courts and the defence but the FBI took them anyway. It was the taking without the approval of the court that made this illegal. Basically the FBI violated a NZ Court order. This might have contributed to the NZ legal system making multiply decisions in favour of Dotcom against the wishes of the Americans. It's not a wise thing to ignore the wishes of the court.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 5:27pm

    Re:

    Copyright is not and never has been theft, despite what colloquial terms lawyers/RIAA/MPAA et al types use, usually in press releases/educational campaigns.

    Breach of copyright is breach of copyright, not theft. Therefore it is likely that this ruling will have no effect on breach of copyright claims. Just as in the case referred to here where the Judge changed the conviction to "dishonestly obtaining a benefit" (btw - how can a judge after the fact change a charge? Aren't you tried on the charges presented in court by the prosecution, and it's bad luck for them if they don't charge you with something else that you might have been convicted of with that evidence? How can an appeal change the charges you were found guilty on?), there are charges other than theft that can be levied.

     

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  15.  
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    Eldakka (profile), Jul 24th, 2014 @ 5:29pm

    Re: Re:

    Oops, this is my comment, didn't log in ...

     

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  16.  
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    kiwirob (profile), Jul 24th, 2014 @ 5:32pm

    Re:

    In New Zealand you'd run afoul of section 240 of the NZ Crimes Act 1961 sorry.

    240 Obtaining by deception or causing loss by deception
    (1)Every one is guilty of obtaining by deception or causing loss by deception who, by any deception and without claim of right,—

    (a)obtains ownership or possession of, or control over, any property, or any privilege, service, pecuniary advantage, benefit, or valuable consideration, directly or indirectly; or

    (b)in incurring any debt or liability, obtains credit; or

    (c)induces or causes any other person to deliver over, execute, make, accept, endorse, destroy, or alter any document or thing capable of being used to derive a pecuniary advantage; or

    (d)causes loss to any other person.

    (2)In this section, deception means—
    (a)a false representation, whether oral, documentary, or by conduct, where the person making the representation intends to deceive any other person and
    (i)knows that it is false in a material particular; or
    (ii)is reckless as to whether it is false in a material particular; or

    (b)an omission to disclose a material particular, with intent to deceive any person, in circumstances where there is a duty to disclose it; or

    (c)a fraudulent device, trick, or stratagem used with intent to deceive any person.

     

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  17.  
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    Whatever (profile), Jul 24th, 2014 @ 7:25pm

    Re: Re:

    The disks themselves, perhaps - but with a ruling like this, is the information on there (the computer files) really property? It would seem with this ruling that only the physical hard drives themselves are property, and the 1's and 0's on it are not.

    Essentially, the NZ court would have to overrule this latest judgement to consider the content of Kim's hard drives to be property.

    Another aside: Do you think that this ruling would mean that data stored, say on your phone, is subject to privacy laws? It's not specifically private property, so what is it?

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 8:38pm

    A little help, please.

    "cannot meaningfully be distinguished from pure information".

    What is "pure information"? Is it a legal term of art? Please no snark in replies, I'd like a serious answer.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2014 @ 11:04pm

    Re: Re:

    this sounds like the perfect law to use against the labels when they take down content that they do not hold the copyright on.

    Want to take bets on the labels ever being charged with a crime like this?

     

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  20.  
    icon
    G Thompson (profile), Jul 24th, 2014 @ 11:40pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The violation of a court order is not the same as the case this was about. Property in the criminal case under the definitions in the NZ Crimes Act are specifically now read to not include digital only data.

    The Act involved in the Courts order forbidding the NZ police from removing evidence and handing it over to another jurisdiction is an entirely separate matter and has more to do with Evidence than 'property' in it's tangible AND unfungible form. So there is no need to overrule a criminality decision on definitions within the Crimes Act at all.

    The 'evidence' was removed and passed on contemptuously and that as kiwibob stated is not something any party really wants to do to any court. Especially the USA in New Zealand since no matter what the political climate at moment might be the NZ courts have a LONG memory and are not beholden in the same way to the government as the US courts/judges are in America.

    As for your privacy question. Privacy isn't really to do with the intangible data (or non-property) it is more to do with the identifiable information itself and how that data can be used. It's more a subjective test than objective as the definition of property has now been defined in this matter.

     

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  21.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Jul 24th, 2014 @ 11:48pm

    Re: Re:

    totally off center... but I'm really intrigued that your Act actually states the word/phrase "Everyone"

    Now to get that sort of wording into the Criminal Code in Australia.. HA!

    Oh and gotta love the mens rae wriggle room in 2(a)(ii) *eyeroll*

     

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  22.  
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    Whatever (profile), Jul 25th, 2014 @ 3:14am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    My thought process is really this: If they hand back the drives but keep a copy of the data, have they retained his "property"? Nope.

    If it is not property, then collecting it (the digital material) without a warrant should be acceptable, because it's not anyone's property.

    The privacy part is just spin test. If data on your phone is not property (such a document would be your property), how can privacy by violated? If someone uses tools to obtain the data from your phone, have they actually broken any real laws? Is the data "taken" property as in theft, or would the entire case hinge solely on proving the unwanted access?

    I'm just trying to wrap my mind around the concept to see how they might apply.

     

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  23.  
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    sangreal, Jul 25th, 2014 @ 7:15am

    Awesome

    So Edward Snowden didn't steal anything after all? hmmmmm ....

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2014 @ 9:09am

    So all the claims about China hacking into US corporate computers and stealing "intellectual data", are baseless accusations. According to the new law, information stored in digital form can't be considered property.

    I agree copying digital files isn't theft. Unless the original files are destroyed in the process. In which case someone is being deprived of ownership through the destruction of their copy of the files.

    So unless the Chinese are destroying files after they copy them from US companies back to mainland China. The only thing they're guilty of is unauthorized access to "intellectual data". They're not guilty of theft. Intellectual data is not property.

     

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  25.  
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    nasch (profile), Jul 25th, 2014 @ 10:41am

    Re: Silver lining!


    Now... since all Music and Video are in a "DATA" format... download away folks! Its NOT PROPERTY!


    That doesn't mean it's not copyrighted.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    nasch (profile), Jul 25th, 2014 @ 10:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The privacy part is just spin test. If data on your phone is not property (such a document would be your property), how can privacy by violated?

    Why must something involve taking property to be a privacy violation? That seems like a complete non sequitur. For example, listening in to someone's private phone call could be a violation of privacy without taking any property.

     

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  27.  
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    nasch (profile), Jul 25th, 2014 @ 10:52am

    Ownership

    Does this also mean we don't own digital music, movies, books, etc. because they're not property?

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2014 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Ownership

    Neither does the RIAA/MPAA then.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    RonKaminsky (profile), Jul 26th, 2014 @ 10:39am

    Re: Re:

    > Copyright is not and never has been theft

    I'm not sure about that anymore... with all of the maximalism and indefinite extensions, isn't it possibly theft from society of the public domain?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2014 @ 7:37am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The privacy part is just spin test. If data on your phone is not property (such a document would be your property), how can privacy by violated? If someone uses tools to obtain the data from your phone, have they actually broken any real laws? Is the data "taken" property as in theft, or would the entire case hinge solely on proving the unwanted access?

    You make little to no sense in that privacy laws are not property laws. Your private data is still private, even if it isn't property. Obtaining that information without the consent of the person holding that data, or a legal mandate, is still a violation of privacy. Theft never really entered into the equation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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