First test case for three strikes law

New Zealand's three strikes copyright law could have its first test case heard in front of the Copyright Tribunal as early as February.

The Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ), which represents major record labels, has accused a Christchurch internet account holder of allegedly pirating music, according to Nathan Green, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice.

This will be the first time the Tribunal will hear a case since the passing of the amended Copyright Act in 2011, euphemistically known as the "Skynet" law.

According to Green, RIANZ has sent infringement notifications to the account holder's ISP, and is now seeking financial remedy from the account holder.  If the Tribunal sides with RIANZ, the accused could face fines of up to $15,000. 

RIANZ has brought 17 cases of alleged piracy to the Tribunal, of which six have been dropped, including a Wellington student who was being asked to pay more than $2000 for allegedly sharing five songs.

Green says 10 of the remaining 11 cases are "on the papers", meaning they will be heard by the Tribunal though paperwork evidence provided by both parties. Green does not know when these decisions will be made.

Thomas Beagle, co-founder of digital civil rights group Tech Liberty NZ, says the Christchurch case will set an important precedence for future copyright infringements and the amount of damages copyright holders can seek. 

Beagle, along with other critics of the Skynet law, says it's fundamentally flawed because it assumes the account holder is guilty when he or she might not have any knowledge of the infringement. 

The damages sought by RIANZ in its previous cases have been inflated with "creative maths", says Beagle, and he hopes the Tribunal will see this during the hearing.

"What we want to see is the Tribunal point out how ludicrous the law is. If the account holder is credible, throw the case out. If they admit it, penalize them, but reasonably and not with the inflated numbers by RIANZ," says Beagle.

RIANZ could not be reached for comment.