A leading local intellectual property lawyer says controversial new changes planned for New Zealand copyright laws could breach the country's international obligations.

AUCKLAND, New Zealand-A leading local intellectual property lawyer says controversial new changes planned for New Zealand copyright laws could breach the country's international obligations.

The New Zealand Government is looking to amend the Copyright Act of 1994 to take account of new advances in digital technology (ELW, March 29).

Earl Gray heads the intellectual property practice of New Zealand law firm Simpson Grierson. He says one particular proposal on home copying could place New Zealand in a precarious position in terms of international copyright obligations.

In June 2003, the Ministry Of Economic Development published recommendations covering such issues as format-shifting, ISP liability and technological protection.

These proposals form the basis of the new Copyright (New Technologies and Performers' Rights) Amendment Bill, which was expected to be introduced into Parliament in March, but is now unlikely to appear before June.

The bill's proposal to allow people to make a single copy of a sound recording for personal use has attracted fierce criticism from music industry organizations. Labels body the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand claims it could have a devastating impact on the local business.

New Zealand is a signatory to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which sets minimum standards on the protection of intellectual property rights. The MED says the proposed amendments would make the NZ act "substantially consistent" with the World Intellectual Property Organisation Copyright Treaty.

However, Gray says: "In terms of TRIPS, any exceptions have to be confined to special cases, and I'm not sure that this [format shifting] is a special case. It would also seem to conflict with normal exploitation of a copyrighted work."

He also says it's "naive" that no provision seems to have been made by the government for any compensation for the music industry if format shifting gets the go-ahead. Other territories which have adopted similar proposals have usually incorporated some form of compensation, such as a levy on recordable products, he says.

Gray says the music industry will also be looking at the final provisions relating to the liability of Internet service providers. The key issue will be the speed at which ISPs remove offending sites once contacted by the copyright owner.

RIANZ is also set to make submissions on the proposals, and separate reports have reportedly been commissioned on the economic impact of the legislation and New Zealand's international copyright obligations. The submissions will be presented in two weeks.