Hey hey, there’s a long weekend with a blues festival coming up – I’m feeling pretty chirpy.
Next weekend - starting on Thursday actually – the Rotorua Blues Festival is on and despite being only a small event it has a great line-up of bands, certainly good enough for blues lovers to head over and spend a day enjoying the music.
There’s Swamp Thing, Auckland’s Flaming Mudcats and Recliner Rockers, Australian pianist Ali Penny, Aussie guitarist Lloyd Spiegel (ex-BB King), Ralph Bennet-Eades, and Brilleaux, Kokomo, John Michaelz and The Usual, and the B-Side Band from Tauranga. All good stuff and most of it free.
Find out more details at www.bobblues.com/bluesfest.
In the meantime I’ve been keeping an eye on the ever-simmering online copyright debate in New Zealand.
I’ve been trying to follow how things are going for illegal downloaders and the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) tasked with sending out threatening letters should various copyright holders - large corporate music and movie types - decide that someone has been grabbing stuff without paying for it.
And the news from New Zealand is fairly quiet.
There were letters sent out last November and some more since. It hasn’t been widely reported and so far no-one seems to have got close to the possible $NZ15,000 fine that can accompany the third of these cease and desist letters (should it then proceed to a court).
I was interested in comments by Donald Clark - a former head of the government broadband network company Reannz, and a former advisor to the Prime Minister – who analysed University of Waikato research that shows sophisticated internet users have simply switched the way they download material, using software and services that cover their tracks.
“It’s hard to escape the conclusion that people sharing copyrighted material have simply switched mechanisms,” Mr Clark concludes.
“I suspect that there has been little net change in the sharing of copyrighted material.”
No real surprises there then. The smart money was always on the fact that anyone who was good at downloading a whole pile of stuff would also be good at covering their tracks should needs be.
New Zealand’s law took effect last April despite a UN report that concluded disconnecting internet users “regardless of the justification provided” is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights because it limits the type of media individuals are allowed to use to express themselves.
(By the way, The Labour party – at the time – promised to repeal the “termination clause”.)
Of course nothing compares to the American approach, where one wonders if corporate interests wield a little more influence on the law and how it is applied.
Just yesterday the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of a university student who was fined $US675,000 for illegally downloading and sharing 30 songs. That’s $US22,500 per song. A federal judge apparently called the penalty unconstitutionally excessive and reduced it to $67,000, but the record companies appealed and the First US Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it.
There does, in fact, seem to be a certain legal lack of clarity in the States as to what constitutes fair punishment.
Take the case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset. That was the first file-sharing copyright infringement lawsuit in the United States brought by major record labels to be tried before a jury. After declining a settlement offer of $US5,000, the defendant, Thomas-Rasset, was found liable in a 2007 trial for infringing copyright on 24 songs and ordered to pay $US222,000 in statutory damages. The court later granted her motion for a new trial because of an error in its jury instructions.
In a second trial in 2009, before which she again declined a settlement offer (this time for $US25,000), a jury again found against Thomas-Rasset, awarding $US1,920,000 in statutory damages, a sum that was later reduced to $US54,000. The record labels refused to accept the reduced award, so a third trial solely to determine damages was held in November 2010, resulting in a jury award of $US1.5 million against Thomas-Rasset.
In July 2011, the court again reduced the $US1.5 million jury award to $US54,000; or $US2,250 per song. The record labels’ appeal against this decision goes before the courts next month.
All that for 24 songs.