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My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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S92a, Recording Industry and Hypocrisy Impacting on People With Disabilities

This post isn’t, strictly speaking, about accessibility. That is, it isn’t directly about web accessibility for people with disabilities. But the issues at play most certainly may have a significant impact on people with disabilities if they come to pass. I am going to talk about New Zealand Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act 2008 , and specifically §92a.


I won’t really go into details about all the ins and outs of §92a, other people have done that already. For those unfamilliar with the issues, §92a calls for the disconnection of internet users based on the sole accusation of copyright infringement. That is, if your neighbour doesn’t like you, and places a call to say you’re illegally downloading movies, you will get disconnected! No trial. No need for evidence. For some reason, the media is talking about protesters of this law as illegal filesharers. That is not the case.

I support copyright holders, and I would like to see piracy eliminated. But §92a is not the way to go about it. I cannot support a law that breaches such basic tennets as "innocent until proven guilty".

§92a was supposed to come into action on 28 February 2009. Thanks to the efforts of numerous Kiwis and other people worldwide (including Stephen Fry), this was put back ’till 27 March 2009. However, this is just a reprieve. The battle may have been won, but the war rages on. This month’s delay was "to give the industry time to agree on a voluntary code of practice".

In theory the "major players" have to get together and hack it out. Of course, the "major players" don’t represent the majority of people. But let’s set aside even that issue and look at one of the major players: The recording industry.

The recording industry claims that they are losing millions of dollars because of people illegally downloading copyrighted material. They want that stopped. I’m all to end piracy. But sometimes the recording industry doesn’t give people any choice. Someone recently wrote
How to Really Stop Piracy, a brilliant blog about reasons why good people are forced into illegal activities, but I can’t find it anymore!.

Recording Industry Guilty of Copyright Abuse

After this long ramble, I’m coming to the main point of my post. How can we trust the recording industry to reach a fair agreement, when they trample over copyright holders themselves when it suits them? There are many, many stories of African-American and African musicians who didn’t see a cent from their music while the recording label got rich. The recording industry says they want to protect the artists. Yes, well, that’s fine, but I DO NOT BELIEVE THEM!

A prime example is the story of a song I suspect most everyone has heard, or knows of, unless they lived under a rock. If you have young children, they probably know the song by heart after having watched a Disney movie 3,452 times. This song is "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". I will never be able to hear or think of that song without anger and sadness at the abuses of the recording industry, the very same industry that is screaming so mightily against the illegal download of music.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to watch a fascinating documentary about this song. It was first named "Mbube", the word "lion" in Zulu. Our English ears and mouths somehow transformed that into "Wimoweh". Mbube was first recorded by its author and composer, Solomon Linda. Mr. Linda received a single meagre payment for the song, never any royalties. The song was very popular and sold 100,000 records in South Africa in 1940. In the 50’s, it travelled to the US and was played by Pete Seeger. George Weiss changed and added a few words to the lyrics and the song became what we know now as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Mr. Weiss and the recording industry have raked in MILLIONS of dollars in copyright. The song was estimated to have earned US$15 million for its use in “The Lion King” alone!!!

Solomon Linda died a pauper in 1962. It took 18 years to erect a tombstone over his grave because it was too expensive to do so. Eventually, the family sued and settled, but nothing will compensate the decades of poverty and misery they endured. Perhaps Mr. Linda wouldn’t have died of renal failure had he been able to afford medical treatment, we will never know.

Possible impact of §92a on people with disabilities

As many of us are aware, finding employment is difficult. It can be more difficult for many people with disabilities, such as wheelchair users, especially if there aren’t level entrances to the work place. For this reason, many work from home, telecommuting. Let’s imagine the following scenario:

Tom is happily married and the father of 3 teenagers. Tom and Janet made the decision before the children were born that Janet would stay at home and raise the kids. Tom was making good money as a programmer. Tom broke his back in a car accident. The company he works for kept his job open for him, but because the head office is in an early 1900’s building, Tom could not get back to work at the office. So Tom arranged with his employer to work from home. Everyone is happy.

Then one day Tom attempts to log in and finds he has no access to the internet. He’s been cut off. He was accused of illegally downloading copyrighted content! He doesn’t know who accused him. In fact, he has no way to even know exactly what the accusation details are. Was he accused directly? Was it a jealous coworker? Or was it somebody that has a gripe against one of his children? Did his kids *actually* download illegal music? Who knows? Tom certainly doesn’t know. It’ll take a while to sort it out.

In the meantime, Tom, the sole wage earner in the household, is unable to work from home, and unable to go to the office.

Does that sound fair to you? Some ISPs are saying they would send notices, but as far as I can tell, nothing in the Act requires than until after the user was disconnected.

If it doesn’t seem fair, keep up fighting to repeal §92a. The delay ’till 27th March gives us time to catch our breath, but we must keep fighting.

4 thoughts on “S92a, Recording Industry and Hypocrisy Impacting on People With Disabilities

  1. Thanks for that Matthew. I am hoping to discuss formats in a future post. These ideas are just plain ludicrous.

    I *fully* understand the desire and need for an industry to protect itself, but these are not the way to go about it. Gah!

  2. I sincerely hope we never see such legislation in Australia – surely it defies the principles of natural justice.

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