A few weeks ago, we noted that the first "three strikes" case of infringement in New Zealand was set to go
to the Copyright Tribunal (an earlier case was dropped
after the recording industry (RIANZ) realized it had screwed up). The Tribunal has now issued its first ruling
, demanding that the accused pay a grand total of $616.57 NZ (about $515 US). The person was accused of downloading and sharing Rihanna's Man Down
twice, and Hot Chelle Rae's Tonight Tonight
once. The tribunal noted that the first song retailed for $2.39 and the latter at $1.79, so it doubled the first one, and started with $6.57 (all NZ dollars). Then it added $50 to pay for infringement notices being sent out. Another $200 covers the fee that RIANZ paid to bring the case, and then it tacked on a "deterrent sum" of $360 -- or $120 per song. Add it all up and you've got $616.57.
The full ruling is a bit odd, but highlights the ridiculousness of NZ's three strikes law. The Tribunal notes that, since this is the first such ruling, it was going to explain each point carefully, and it did. But the really crazy stuff is that it notes that, under the law, it basically has to assume that the accusations mean guilt
. The accused responded by admitting only to downloading Man Down
a single time, and guessing that the second time had to do with a problem with uTorrent. She denies entirely that she or anyone in her household downloaded the other song.
"The letter outlines three separate infringements recorded on an internet connection in my name. The first song downloaded was a song called man down by rihanna. I accept responsibility for this. I downloaded this song unaware that in doing so from this site was illegal. When this song was downloaded to my computer; a whole utorrent program downloaded onto my computer [W]hen I turned my computer on it said that the song was still downloading and maybe that caused the song to register twice as it being downloaded? l'm unsure if this is possible or not but don't know why it shows that I would try to download the same song twice.
l kept receiving a pop up notice saying it seems like utorrent is already running but not responding, please close all utorrent processes and try again ... I figured out how to delete the song that was still trying to download but still couldn't figure out how to delete the whole program until just recently when I got someone to look at it as after I received the letter, i assumed having this program on my computer was causing the warning regarding downloading?
When I received the letter warning me of the download and consequences and that it was illegal, I didn't challenge the letter as I took responsibility for my actions and realised I was in the wrong and took it as a warning and didn't do it again.
I would never intentionally do anything illegal and you can see this from my criminal record as it is clean. I didn't realise that it was illegal and I apologise sincerely for this mistake and have removed it from my computer.
In regards to the song 'tonight tonight' by Hot Chelle Rae being downloaded, I can't claim responsibility for this as it wasn't done by myself or anyone in this household but if I find the person responsible for downloading this through my internet then I will definitely enforce the consequences behind doing so."
So, basically, of the three strikes, she admits to one, suggests the other one, if done, was completely by accident, and vehemently denies the final download. The Tribunal basically ignores all that and says that, under the law, an accusation is as good as guilt unless you provide evidence of innocence
-- and then says she failed to do so. Think about that for a second. You need to prove a negative here -- which seems close to impossible, but that's what the law apparently requires.
The Act creates a presumption that each incidence of file sharing identified in an infringement notice constitutes an infringement of the right owner's copyright in the work identified. An account holder may submit evidence that this presumption does not apply, or give reasons why it should not apply. In this case, the Respondent has not provided any evidence that the presumption should not apply. In fact, she acknowledges that at least some manner of infringement has taken place and has apologised for this.
You would think that admitting honestly to that single download might make the Tribunal wonder if perhaps the other two accusations were inaccurate, but instead it take it as proof that "some manner of infringement" has taken place, so it can assume that the accusations were all accurate. The Tribunal basically throws up its hands and says that since there is "insufficient evidence" it just assumes "guilty."
There is insufficient evidence before the Tribunal for it to make detailed findings on these factual issues. That is the nature of a decision being made on the papers. On the basis of the information available to it, however, together with the statutory presumption that each incidence of file sharing identified in an infringement notice constitutes an infringement of the right owner's copyright in the work, the Tribunal is satisfied that file sharing took place via the Respondent's internet account as alleged.
In the normal world, "insufficient evidence" means that you're presumed innocent, not guilty. But this is copyright law we're talking about, where the normal rules don't apply.
If there's any silver lining to the ruling, it's that the Tribunal did not go as far as RIANZ wanted. It had argued that the accused should have to pay a lot more than the cost of purchasing the track for that initial cost, because (it argued) any upload could be shared multiple times. The Tribunal rejects that idea, saying that it is "not relevant" to the cost issue, though it may be relevant concerning deterrence. On the issue of deterrence, the Tribunal more or less sticks its finger in the air and picks $120.
RIANZ tried to argue that the deterrence fee should be high, because it insisted the downloading of three songs (really only two songs) was clearly "flagrant." Why? Well, because she used uTorrent! Therefore, she must be a serial infringer.
The fact that the account holder had BitTorrent protocol (uTorrent version 2.2.0) software installed on her computer. It notes that the locating downloading, installing and configuring of such software is a deliberate act and does not occur without direct action on behalf of a computer user.
The fact that uTorrent is perfectly legal and has significant non-infringing uses is not something that the RIANZ cares to concede. RIANZ also claimed that three whole downloads proves "flagrancy." Oh, and they insist that she "took no action to alter her behavior" -- again as an argument for flagrancy. Of course, the woman argues that she did, in fact, change her behavior. Either way the Tribunal notes that these arguments have nothing to do with flagrancy, since they'll automatically apply to just about anyone who shows up in front of the panel.
On the whole, it seems doubtful that this is going to suddenly make people start buying music again, but why let that get in the way of shaking down some music fans?