Thoughts of a geek

18 February 2009

S92a ranting

Filed under: Computers, Freedom — Tags: , , , , — qwandor @ 11:18 pm

My flatmate Josh recently posted a note on Facebook (which he has since reposted on his blog, so check it out there) basically in support of the proposed amendments to New Zealand’s copyright act which are about to pass into law soon.

Many people have already written about why the changes are so bad. A protest is happening, both online by ‘blacking out’ avatars on Twitter, Facebook &c., and at Parliament tomorrow from 12:00 pm. Some more coverage: The Guardian, NZ Herald, O’Reilly, and Geekzone.

Anyway, I wrote enough of a response to it that I thought it would be worth sharing with the wider world. Here goes, copied from comments I posted on the Facebook note:

“ISPs aren’t going to cut someone’s connection unless they know they’ve been downloading illegally,”
That is not what we have seen in other similar cases, such as the many websites taken down because of false DMCA takedown notices. Suppose that you were an ISP, and had the choice between following a big media company’s request to disconnect a customer who may or may not have breached copyright, or facing expensive litigation for refusing to do so. Which would you choose, in the best interests of your business?

“and let’s face it, it’s not a hard thing to find out for an ISP.”
On the contrary, it is difficult and expensive (even impossible in some cases) to know for sure whether somebody has in fact been downloading pirated material. At the least ISPs would have to install some pretty powerful deep packet filtering, and keep enormous logs of everything all their customers have done over their connections.

This requires a lot of extra equipment, and a lot of space to keep all the data around. Remember also that the Internet is not just the web (HTTP), but thousands of different protocols. And of course as soon as you start using any decent encryption, it is completely impossible for ISPs to determine what you are transferring. All this extra filtering may also result in slower connections, depending on how it were implemented.

“So why do you fear being accused of something you know you’ve done?”
The big entertainment companies are also known to often accuse people of infringing their copyright when they have done nothing of the sort. Some people at the University of Washington did some research into this, and found that it is quite simple to frame anyone you want as having downloaded whatever file over BitTorrent, and in fact received many DMCA takedown notices from big media companies claiming that their (networked) /printers/ were downloading pirated movies (which they certainly were not). Have a look at their site ( and read the paper they published ( Note that the DMCA takedown thing is aimed against sites claimed to be offering pirated material rather than those downloading it, but Piatek et al.’s approach would work just as well in our case.

ISPs in America and elsewhere, from what I can tell, tend often to act on DMCA takedown notices without much checking, and it is likely that the same thing would happen here. So if you feel like taking someone’s Internet connection out (perhaps you disagree with political statements they are making, or are a disgruntled ex-employee, or a bored teenager…), you could just frame them as having downloaded pirated movies, their ISP will receive a letter accusing them of breaching copyright, and after a few letters they will be disconnected.

So, anyway: sign the petition, come to the protest tomorrow (from 12:00 pm at Parliament, see the Facebook event or the Creative Freedom website for details).


  1. Comments make good blogs sometimes, most of my blog on memorisation was copied from an adium chat 🙂

    Comment by tommo39 — 19 February 2009 @ 2:09 am

  2. I see the problems with this poorly drafted legislation. But the piracy issue does remain. Can you offer the legislators suggestions on better ways of achieving their objective?

    Comment by Neil Walbran — 20 February 2009 @ 9:27 am

  3. I think that the only solution is to go through the court system. That is what it is there for, after all.

    Possibly it would help if record companies were more friendly towards their customers (not to mention their artists) too; treating your honest customers as thieves (DRM, restrictive licensing and so on) does not exactly build goodwill.

    Comment by qwandor — 20 February 2009 @ 9:58 am

  4. Also the penalty should be a fine for the person who actually infringed copyright, rather than disconnection of (potentially) a whole company or school or whatever because one person downloaded infringing material.

    Comment by qwandor — 20 February 2009 @ 10:10 am

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