“Three strikes” law halves Internet piracy in New Zealand with no prosecutions…yet

The so-called “three strikes” system works like this: You’re suspected of downloading and sharing copyrighted content over the Internet, and your ISP sends you a letter saying that’s very naughty, and advises you that legal content can be found elsewhere.

If you ignore the warning, you’ll get a second letter, and finally, if you’re very persistent, a third letter will arrive and you could find your Internet service cutoff and be taken to court by the copyright holders.

This system has attracted considerable controversy, but that hasn’t stopped one or two countries from implementing such a scheme, while others, such as the UK and the USA, continue to consider introducing one.

New Zealand passed a three strikes law in April last year. A “copyright tribunal” can issue fines of up to $15,000 New Zealand dollars (about $12,000 US) and remove access to the Internet for up to six months, should an individual not be able to prove they didn’t infringe copyright.

Initially, two New Zealand ISPs reported a drop in related traffic after the scheme went live in September 2011, and the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand has now released some figures to prove it.

Illegal downloads fell by more than half

It states that in August 2011, there were 110,000 instances of the top 200 films being illegally viewed online, which then fell to 50,000 in September. The group doesn’t provide any figures after that date, but told the BBC the fall has now leveled out, with four out of 10 Internet users still downloading pirated content.

Just over 2,700 letters have been sent out, but only “a handful” have received the third, and worst, letter. However, the association wants ISPs to increase the number of letters sent out to 5,000 per month, and drop the administration cost of doing so from $25 NZD to $2 NZD.

According to Stuff.co.nz, a total of three people have received the fateful third letter, but RIANZ has never taken the “offenders” to court, plus the time limit for them to do so has expired, so those three are back to having no strikes against them.

Put these two points together, and it looks like the current rules aren’t deemed profitable enough to follow through, but with an increase in the amount of letters sent out, said to reach 5-percent of P2P users in the country, combined with such a drastic reduction in the cost of doing so, could see what amounts to a threat at the moment rapidly become a lucrative reality.