Hard News by Russell Brown


Thinking Digital

I'll be watching Internet NZ's NetVision 2011 election debate tonight, not because I have great expectations of being enlightened by the respective party panellists, but because I am cheered by the thought of there being an actual, in-depth discussion of policy in advance of a general election.

Not on television, mind. It's to be streamed live here.

Sean Plunket will MC the event and Rob O'Neill and Sarah Putt will pose additional questions, including those asked on Twitter (hashtag #Net11).

IT minister Steven Joyce, Labour's Clare Curran, Gareth Hughes of the Greens and Act's Peter McCaffrey make up the panel.

Labour managed to get some policy of its own out the door this week -- demonstrating the best and worst of Curran's stewardship of the IT portfolio in the process. The full policy is here. This sentence says two different things:

Labour will consider expanding the role of NZ Onscreen as a broader online content storage facility and will actively encourage new business models where NZ creative content can be distributed online in an affordable and accessible way. 

It's not clear what content an expanded NZ On Screen would be storing or how a strictly non-commercial public-good service would facilitate new business models.

A couple of of paragraphs down, there's this:

Labour will also investigate the viability of a small copyright levy on Internet access, which would develop the digital platform for accessing Kiwi content mentioned above. Funds raised could go to content creators through an arms length collecting and distribution arrangement.

Two entirely different things are proposed here. The second sentence, the idea of a small rights levy on internet access, to be distributed amongst copyright owners -- much as Apra collects and redistributes rights for for the use of music from broadcast media and events -- is worth discussing. The first sentence -- taking funds levied in the name of copyright creators and using it to build them a "platform" whether they want it or not -- isn't really a starter,

The idea is so vague that David Farrar was able to basically kill it by characterising it as an "internet tax" and speculating on all the ways it could be misused by Labour and its friends. It was an open goal. 

Nonetheless, the policy does contain some interesting ideas -- along with the commitment, won by Curran in her own caucus, to completely remove the potential penalty of internet disconnection from the Copyright Act within 90 days. And it says this:

Labour affirms that the fundamental human right to impart and receive information and opinion necessarily includes the ability to access the Internet in order to give practical effect to the right in today's world.

Rather surprisingly, no such statement appears in the Greens' relatively prosaic IT policy. But only the Greens are thinking about e-waste.

I think all the parties would do well to read Future Digital, Internet NZ's own policy and government "discussion starter", a notably lucid document from an organisation that sometimes struggles to keep things simple.

Your thoughts are welcomed ...

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