Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ways In Which I Will Thank You Not To Talk About s92a

This week, John Barnett, seasoned NZ producer and shaper of the current NZ film and tv industries, added the support of his company to the passage of Section 92a. "The legislation", stated Barnett, "requires Internet Providers to take some responsibility for what appears on their sites, just as print publishers, T.V and radio stations are responsible for material they disseminate".

The flaw in the analogy is apparent. I get my Internet from Orcon, but Orcon's website hasn't even the slightest hint of where I might go to download episodes of Battlestar Galactica in time to find out what happens on the show before some chump on Digg spoils it for me. In Mr Barnett's analogy, Orcon (or Paradise, or Xtra, or Actrix, or what have you) is not filling the role of newspaper-publisher so much as that of the boy on the corner to whom I give tuppence in exchange for the day's Post. Should I find my own material reprinted without permission within the pages of the publication, I know that the deployment of a clout about the churl's ear will in no way see my work credited appropriately, nor aid me in finding recompense for the wrong.

However, while it may be fun to take potshots at the faulty reasoning of people whose area of expertise is not Internet policy, there's plenty of unhelpful talk going on on both sides of the debate.

"I don't care whether a few nerds lose their precious Internet" is not only a risky line of reasoning for the obvious reason (that is, making the speaker sound selfish and possibly hypocritical). It also betrays a lack of concern for the issues at stake: the question isn't, "will WoW access become threatened by users' prosecution for downloading episodes of Heroes long after reasonable people have moved on?", so much as, "is the notion of 'innocent until proven guilty' one we'd like to hold onto, or would it be better to just assume the defendant's guilt if the plaintiff is a huge multinational media conglomerate?"

The flipside of this is the notion that "this doesn't bother me because I'm clever enough to get past any potential restrictions". Employed by folk with only just enough nous to hacksaw the Internets (which isn't, as they say, rocket science), this logic dictates that as long as a law can be broken by the cognoscenti, there's really nothing to worry about. Every time someone publicly uses this reasoning, a little child somewhere out there has their suspicions confirmed that this is an argument about piracy. To assert that "modern creatives shouldn't have to rub shoulders with no-goodniks and ne'er-do-wells in order to operate in a c21st climate" is not the same thing as saying, "I didn't want to pay money for Chinese Democracy but the last couple tracks are pretty bitchin'". I mean, those two statements don't even have the same amount of syllables.

Another line of discussion that solves nothing is blaming the whole thing on the party one doesn't like, though it is an awfully efficient way of making onesself look like a dick. To shrug and say that a country who voted unwisely gets what it deserves is just teen-grade apathy for advanced players. It is a matter of public record that this legislation was brought in by a Labour Govrenment, just as it is an established fact that it was voted for and preserved by National MPs. Equally, it is well-recognized that the same Labour Government was generally quite good to the creative sector, and also an unavoidable fact that it was a National Government that heeded public outcry and made the decision to postpone the Act's passage.

I've seen a lot of discussion as to whether this whole thing smacks of typical Leftist big-government interference or of typical Right-Wing big-business kowtowing. Without exception these discussions are one step from descending into paranoid fantasy, and/or consist entirely of rote recitation of the participants' preconceived notions as to what's wrong with the folks they didn't vote for. Anyone (be it in Parliament or at grassroots level) who's getting shit done on this matter is doing so by approaching it in a nonpartisan, how-can-this-be-fixed manner; anyone without that attitude is, frankly, just getting in the way.


fanofgrendel said...

NZ, based on my limited experience, seemed like such a well reasoned place that it is mind boggling to me this craziness is going on.

ontic5 said...

after all I´ve heard about NZ, personal freedom is much more valued there than at my place, but this law is so completely out of the picture that I wonder what went wrong there.

Homage said...

As to why this might happen here of all places:

We in New Zealand talk a good game about personal freedom, valuing the individual's creative urge, all that good stuff. And much of the time we back that up in our policy and our behaviour. But I think a critical factor here may be that we're still a very "experimental" society in many regards. There's vestiges of the frontier urge, make-it-up-as-you-go-along spirit to the way we make decisions.

This is an untested law elsewhere because most countries that propose it have rejected it as contravening their deeply-held principles. We're somewhat prone to having a very talkative identity crisis when anyone asks what our deeply-held principles might even be, so in some ways it's not all that surprising that something like this could slip through an election-cycle bout of confusion.

Also New Zealanders tend to be wary of people with strongly held views or passionate dedication to same, so - as I tried to say in the post - what with Government being quite Centrist (and this 95% of the time being quite a good thing politically) there's nobody to stand up and yell, "oh heavens no, I'll not stand for this!"