The biggest overhaul of New Zealand copyright legislation in almost two decades has finally been passed.

The Copyright (New Technologies and Performers' Rights) Amendment Bill -- which dates back to 2003 -- had its third and final reading in the New Zealand Parliament April 8 and was passed by 111 to 10 votes. It is the first major revamp of NZ copyright law since 1994.

Key elements of the legislation include the legalization of music format shifting for private use, new provisions relating to Internet service provider liability and the circumvention of technological protection measures (TPMs), and the continuation of a partial ban on the parallel importation of new release DVDs.

The Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) has broadly welcomed the legislation and intends to work closely with ISPs to ensure new copyright legislation works against online pirates. RIANZ chief executive Campbell Smith says: "RIANZ welcomes the passage of this bill into law because at the very least it provides content creators and users alike with a degree of certainty in crucial areas."

However, the New Zealand Federation Against Copyright Theft is concerned that the legislation does not do enough to compel ISPs to act against copyright infringers.

The U.S. government had previously signaled that it was unhappy about certain aspects of an earlier draft of the law. In the annual National Trade Estimate Report issued on March 28, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) noted industry concern about certain aspects of the legislation, which "would put New Zealand at odds with the growing international consensus" regarding copyright protection in the online environment.

Nevertheless, NZ associate commerce minister Judith Tizard maintains that the bill provides clarification on how copyright applies to new technologies in today's digital environment. "A robust, up to date intellectual property rights regime is an essential part of an innovative, growing economy," she says. "The bill will maintain the balance between protection, access and use already established in the original Act."

On the issue of Internet liability, the bill introduces a limited exception from copyright infringement if the ISP merely provides the "physical facilities to enable a communication to take place". There is also no liability for an ISP when caching infringing copyright material as long as it prevents access to infringing material "as soon as possible after it becomes aware" that the content may be illegal.

Under the new format shifting provisions, consumers can make a digital copy of a sound recording they own. However, they can only make one copy and must retain both the original version and the copies made. Tizard stresses that this does not legitimize copying of CDs for friends or online sharing.

On TPMs, there are new criminal offence provisions built into the legislation, although these apply only to a limited set of circumstances relating to large-scale instances of circumvention. However, there are also new provisions in which circumvention of TPMs is permitted.

The NZ DVD industry, meanwhile, has welcomed the continuation of the nine month parallel importation ban on films from their first international release date. The partial ban was to expire on in October 2008, but will now remain in place for a further five years.