Can our copyright law keep pace with the digital age?  

The government has recently announced that the Copyright Act 1994 (the Act) will undergo a review. In announcing its plans for the review, Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister, Jacqui Dean, said “it is important we ensure our copyright regime is fit for purpose in today’s rapidly changing technological environment.” You can read the full government press release here.

It has been 10 years since the last full review of the Act, and in those 10 years the way in which copyright works are created and used has changed dramatically. 

A review in 2001-2004 resulted in amendments to the Act in 2008 by the Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act. At that time it was agreed that a further review would take place in five years’ time, although in 2013 that scheduled review was delayed to allow for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. Now that those negotiations have come to an end, plans for the review are alive again.    

The particular objectives of the review are to:

  • assess how well the Copyright Act 1994 is meeting our objectives for copyright;
  • identify any barriers to achieving the objectives and how these affect creators, publishers, distributors, users and consumers; and
  • put together a plan to address any issues that are identified.

A study of copyright in the creative sector was carried out by the Government in December last year. The results of that study supported a further review of the Act in highlighting that our existing copyright regime is not easily applied in the digital-age. 

For example, new types of content have emerged and are still emerging. As augmented and virtual reality technologies develop and grow in popularity, so does augmented and virtual reality content which, like interactive games, is not specifically referred to in the Copyright Act. New forms of unauthorised use have also emerged, such as stream-ripping (converting streamable content into a downloadable copy).

The Act must strike a balance between protecting the rights of copyright owners, and allowing use and access to information to encourage innovation and economic growth.  Stakeholders have differing views as to whether the current Act strikes an appropriate balance.   Some tech companies, schools, and consumer groups in particular are concerned that the Act is too prohibitive and is impeding innovation. These are examples of copyright "users" and so would prefer the Act to allow a greater level of use without having to pay royalties.  

One thing we can all agree on though, is that elements of the Act have become out-dated and do not align with the way in which content is now delivered and used in New Zealand.

We look forward to following the review process as it unfolds.  

The full cabinet paper on the review proposal can be viewed here.