Advice of officials
New Zealand has a means by which to prevent cinemas from having to compete with different formats, such as DVD, Blu-ray, pay-per-view or free-to-air.
The Copyright Act bans parallel importation of films into New Zealand for nine months from the international release date.
This protection mechanism looks set to continue for another three years due to new legislation recently introduced into Parliament. The only change is that the ban will be shortened to five months from the existing nine.
The Copyright Act 1994 provides that a person infringes copyright in a film if he or she:
- imports a copy of the film into New Zealand within nine months of it first being made available to the public;
- knows or has reason to believe that the film was imported into New Zealand within nine months of first being made available to the public;
- is not the licensee of the copyright in New Zealand; or
- imports the film into New Zealand for purposes other than for his or her private and domestic use.
Government officials state that the ban exists in order to:
"Give sufficient time for the domestic film industry to profit from their investment in the distribution and exhibition of films before opening up the market to competition from retailers and other commercial users."
In the late 1990s, an amendment to the Copyright Act abolished the ban. Following this, the Office of the United States Trade Representative placed New Zealand on the Special 301 Watch List – a register of countries that it considers to have inadequate copyright protection laws. A press release from the US embassy stated that:
"New Zealand was placed on the Watch List...after the New Zealand Government passed an amendment to the Copyright Act abolishing the exclusive importation right for copyright owners. The law was of serious concern because it eroded the level of copyright protection available to right holders in New Zealand and made it more difficult to combat pirated goods."
The then government revived the ban with an amendment to the Copyright Act in 2003. New Zealand was subsequently taken off the watch list.
Officials at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment set out three possible options for reform in a regulatory impact statement:(1)
- allowing the ban to lapse from October 31 2013 so that retailers can import film titles as soon as they are released overseas on formats such as DVD;
- continuing the ban for three years, but shortening its period to five months; or
- reinstating the nine-month ban for a further five years.
The officials recommended the first option – allowing the ban to lapse.
The government subsequently tabled the Copyright (Parallel Importing of Films) Amendment Bill.(2)
The bill proposes to amend the Copyright Act to continue the ban for three years, but shorten its period to five months. This is the second option from the regulatory impact statement.
A parliamentary select committee will take submissions on the bill and report back to the House by August 16 2013.
The explanatory note to the bill states that the film industry will have another three years to "finish converting to digital exhibition technology and ensure that the film distribution model reflects developments in the market for films, particularly online".
The proposed law will extend the ban and continue to protect the owners of the 120 cinema complexes in New Zealand for another three years.
For further information on this topic please contact Matt Adams or Simon Fogarty at AJ Park by telephone (+64 4 473 8278), fax (+64 4 472 3358) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com).
This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.