Copyright infringement via file sharing

December 27, 2013 by

In 2013, the Copyright Tribunal issued 17 decisions pertaining to the relatively new illegal file sharing copyright infringement regime. In all 17 cases, the applicant was the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) taking action on behalf of the copyright holders against individual Internet account holders. None of the account holders were infringing on a commercial scale for profit. In most cases the infringement concerned the uploading of music using bitTorrent file-sharing protocols.

How does the regime work

Sections 122A-122U of the New Zealand Copyright Act 1994 (Act) establish a special regime for taking enforcement action against people who infringe copyright through file sharing. These sections establish a “special regime for taking enforcement action against people who infringe copyright through file sharing”. This special regime was implemented by the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act 2011.

Copyright Law New Zealand

File sharing means that “material is uploaded via, or downloaded from, the Internet using an application or network that enables the simultaneous sharing of material between multiple users and uploading and downloading may, but need not, occur at the same time.” In the cases that the Tribunal has decided so far, most concerned the uploading of individual pop songs.

The rights owner may apply to the Tribunal for compensation once the following three infringement notices have been issued to an account holder:

  • detection notice
  • warning notice
  • enforcement notice

The right holders themselves do not issue these notices. The Internet protocol address provider (IPAP) issues the notices i.e. the company offering Internet services (e.g. Telecom or Vodafone).

The infringement notices must contain specific information in order to be valid and must adhere to certain procedural requirements. There are also time limits imposed on all infringement notices, meaning that the reoffending must occur within a specified period of time and must concern the same copyright material. More information about when an account holder is “on notice” can be found here.

The Act makes provision for an account holder to challenge each infringement notice he or she receives, and for the rights owner to either accept or reject any such challenges. Account holders should scrutinise each infringement notice for missing information and procedural mistakes.

Application to the Copyright Tribunal

After an enforcement notice has been issued, the rights owner may apply to the Copyright Tribunal for an order under s122O of the Act against the account holder.

The Copyright Tribunal is required to order the account holder to pay a sum to the rights holder if the Tribunal is satisfied that:

  • all three alleged infringements that triggered the infringement notices amounted to an infringement of the right owner’s copyright;
  • the infringements occurred at the IP address of the account holder; and
  • the three notices were issued in accordance with the Act.

There is an exception in s 122O(5) of the Act, under which the Tribunal may decline to make an order if “in the circumstances of the case, the Tribunal is satisfied that making the order would be manifestly unjust to the account holder.” In all other cases, where s 122O(5) does not apply, the legislation requires the Tribunal to order payment.

Statutory presumptions

The Act holds the account holder liable for copyright infringement involving file sharing. Liability is not conditional on identifying the person who actually committed the copyright infringement. Account holders that live in a shared flat or parents with kids are at risk for being held liable for a copyright infringement they have not personally committed.

The Act holds the account holder liable, i.e. the person who owns the Internet account. In one decision the father of two teenaged sons was ordered to pay a sum of NZ$557.15 because his sons uploaded a song three times.

The law is not concerned with identifying the person who actually committed the infringing act. Instead, it holds the account holder responsible independent of who actually downloaded or uploaded the file.

The real sting of the Act lies in the various statutory presumptions. The presumption shifts the burden of proof to the respondent, who is typically not represented and without the financial resources to defend the claim.

Section 122N(1) of the Act creates a presumption that each incidence of file sharing identified in an infringement notice constitutes an infringement of the rights owner’s copyright in the work identified. The onus is on the account holder to submit evidence that, or give reasons why the presumption does not apply. That of course is a very difficult task because evidence showing that no copyright infringement has occurred is hard to produce.

There are also further presumptions specifically, that the information contained in the infringement notice is correct, including that the infringement occurred at the IP address of the account holder and that the notices were issued in accordance with the Act.

Account holders that have received infringement notices should carefully check them for their compliance with the copyright law, otherwise they are presumed to be lawful. Doing nothing or ignoring the infringement notices is not a viable option.


  • The account holder is responsible for any copyright infringement via his or her Internet account, regardless of who actually downloaded or uploaded the material.
  • You have to manage the risk that children, friends or flatmates use your Internet connection to download or upload copyrighted material illegally.
  • Make sure your Wi-Fi connection is secure by setting it up with a strong password.
  • If you receive an infringement notice check it for missing information and procedural mistakes. You should not ignore it.
  • Deactivate the upload function on your file sharing protocol.
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