Ariadne’s Thread – The Labyrinth of the Dotcom Extradition Case

Now, before Daedalus left Crete, he had given Ariadne a magic ball of thread, and instructed her how to enter the Labyrinth. She must open the entrance door and tie the loose thread to the lintel; the ball would then roll along, diminishing as it went and making, with devious turns and twists, for the corners where the Minotaur was lodged.[1]



This post considers the appeal against the findings by Judge Dawson in the District Court that Mr Dotcom and his co-appellants were eligible for extradition. The article attempts to explain in plain terms some of the legal issues surrounding the case. One of the main issues was whether or not the offences alleged were extraditable. But a word of caution – perhaps an apologia. This article is not a full academic treatment of the decision. It is an overview and an attempt to explain in straightforward terms a part of a somewhat complex decision.

It was necessary for the Court to consider the indictment that had been proferred in the United States and the charges which the accused appellants were to face in that country and determine whether or not they amounted to extraditable offences for the purposes of the Extradition Act 1999.

There were a number of “overlays’ in that not only did the Court have to consider the Act but also the provisions of an Extradition Treaty between New Zealand and the United States which came into force in December 1970. Article II of that Treaty set out sets of offences which were extraditable and which were particularly relevant in this case. Throughout the decision the question of whether or not the conduct was sufficient to engage Article II.

A further overlay was in the provisions of section 101B of the Extradition Act. That section was inserted by the Extradition Amendment Act 2002 in response to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC). That section has the effect of deeming various offences to be extradition offences under existing treaties with foreign countries that are parties to UNTOC. This applies to the 1970 US/NZ Treaty. The deemed offences include an offence involving participation in an organised criminal group.

What the Court Had to Do

The Court had to determine whether the offences contained in the United States indictment were extradition offences under section 24(2)(c) of the Extradition Act.[2]

First, the Court had to identify the factual allegations that underpinned each count. Then it had to consider whether the totality of those alleged acts of omissions came within the description of an extradition offence for the purposes of the Treaty.

In such an exercise Gilbert J reminded himself that he should not take a narrow view by concentrating on nomenclature or the constituent elements of the offence. He recognised that generically offences may be similar although they may be articulated using different language.

Instead he noted that the Treaty was to be interpreted in accordance with cl 31(1) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. This provides:

(1) … a treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose.

Furthermore, he observed that it does not matter that the offence charged by the requesting State (in this case the United States) may contain additional elements beyond those implicit in an Article II offence so long as the additional elements do not substantively change the nature of the conduct alleged.

The Charges

The important counts in the indictment involved allegations of copyright infringement. Count 2 alleged conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. Counts 4 to 8 alleged specific instances of copyright infringement. These offences of criminal copyright infringement were the foundation for other charges. Without criminal copyright infringement these other charges could not be sustained. Thus in the decision the Judge considered these predicate criminal copyright allegations first.

The other counts were racketeering (count 1), money laundering (count 3), and the wire fraud charges (counts 9 to 13).

In the argument the United States contended that there were pathway offences in New Zealand law which could be followed to ascertain whether the acts or omissions constituting those offences amounted to an extradition offence. It is not necessary for the extradition offence to match the offence stated in the indictment of the requesting State. Rather there must be, as I have stated, generic similarity.

I shall now proceed to consider the counts in the indictment and how the Court determined whether or not there were qualifying extraditable offences or “pathways” to the Count in question[3].

COUNT 2 – Conspiracy to Commit Copyright Infringement[4]

Pathway Offences

The Court considered a number of different offences under New Zealand law which were pathways to the count in the indictment alleging conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. In doing so the Court considered the applicability of certain offences in the Crimes Act that did not directly address copyright infringement but where the behaviour might involve that include that activity.

Conspiracy to Defraud[5]

Conspiracy to defraud was an offence that was stated in Article II.16 of the Extradition Treaty.

The issue in considering this count was whether the crime of conspiracy to defraud could include behaviour that involved copyright infringement. The Court held that it could and cited considerable authority in support of its finding.[6] It was argued that the Copyright Act was a code but in light of the authority cited, the Court rejected that argument, although it should be noted that the authorities cited are quite nuanced on this point[7]. However, the issue becomes a contentious one when sections 228 and 249 of the Crimes Act come into play along with the foundation of Dixon v R[8] which is discussed below.

The Court considered whether the elements of conspiracy to defraud were present in this case[9] and stated that  wilful infringement of copyright can properly be characterised as a dishonest act. Such infringement deprives the copyright holder of something to which it might be entitled. The money obtained through participation in the alleged conspiracy to defraud any person – that is to cause the copyright holders economic loss by depriving them of something to which they might be entitled – by fraudulent means (intentional infringement of copyright) is the allegation in Count 2 which is sustained.

It was argued that the safe harbour provided by section 92B and 902C of the Copyright Act provided relief. Although the Court held that the safe harbour was not engaged in this case the discussion of the distinction between the scope of 92B and 92C and the general observations on the availability of the safe harbour provides a useful guide for the scope of these sections.

That would have been enough to dispose of the matter in that by using the conspiracy to defraud pathway it was found to be an extradition offence within Article II.16.

However, it was necessary to consider other pathways given the fact that the matter would go on appeal.

Dishonestly Taking or Using a Document – s. 228 Crimes Act[10]

In his discussion of Article II.16 and the state of the Crimes Act at the time of the Extradition Treaty, Gilbert J considered the applicability of the former section 257 of that Act. Section 257 has been replaced by section 228 which involves dishonestly taking or using a document with intent to obtain property, a service, pecuniary advantage or any other benefit.

The first consideration was whether a digital file can be a document. That is in fact the case and is clear from the definition in s. 217 Crimes Act and affirmed in Dixon[11]. This is not a contentious proposition.

The Court then restated the proposition that wilful infringement of copyright can amount to an act of dishonesty – that is an act done without a belief that there was express or implied consent to, or authority for, the act from a person entitled to give such consent or authority (the copyright owner).

It was argued that s.228 of the Crimes Act did not mention copyright but for the reasons given in the extensive discussion of the availability of the Crimes Act to encompass infringing behaviour in certain circumstances in support of the conspiracy argument it mattered[12]  not that copyright in a document (a digital file) is not singled out in the section.

The Court observed that although Megaupload was a cyberlocker it still made use of copyright infringing material in storing the files and making them available to generate advertising and subscription revenue. Use was not an essential element of the offence but obtaining a document for pecuniary advantage was, and the definition of “obtain” includes retaining. Therefore it was enough for Megaupload to retain the files on its servers the fulfil the requirement of “obtaining”

The particular conduct was undertaken for the purposes of pecuniary gain and thus the conduct in Count 2 is covered by s. 228 and is deemed to be included in the Treaty and the requirements of s. 101B(1)(c) are made out. In that section 228 is an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment of seven years.  Finally, it was noted in the interests of completeness that the appellants were in New Zealand.

The next associated issue was whether or not there was an organised criminal group.[13] This involved a consideration of the provisions of section 101B(1)(c)(ii) of the Extradition Act. The elements that are required – combining the UNTOC definitions of an “organised criminal group” and “serious crime” are as follows:


(a) a structured group;

(b) of three or more persons;

(c) existing for a period of time;

(d) acting in concert;

(e) with the aim of committing;

(i) offences established in accordance with UNTOC; or

(ii) a serious crime, being conduct constituting an offence punishable by imprisonment of four years or more;

(f) in order to obtain financial or material benefit directly or indirectly.[14]

The Court was satisfied that all these elements were fulfilled and there was sufficient evidence to support all the allegations together with the fact that copyright infringement in the US carried a maximum penalty of 5 years thus fulfilling that requirement and on that basis s. 228 provided an extradition pathway.[15]

Accessing a Computer for a Dishonest Purpose – s. 249[16]

Section 249 of the Crimes Act makes it an offence to access a computer and dishonestly or by deception and without colour of right obtain any property, privilege, service, pecuniary advantage, benefit, or valuable consideration or cause loss to any person. This section was considered as a pathway offence to Count 2 in the following way.

For the same reasons as those given in respect of s. 228, the allegation of dishonesty as an element of s. 249 was satisfied by wilful infringement of copyright.

It was argued that there was no access of a computer system – rather merely providing a computer facility for others which could be used lawfully or unlawfully. The issue of access was dealt with in this way. The data (the copyright infringing file) was received from the uploader onto Megaupload’s computer system, stored in that system and made available to others to access using the link provided by Megaupload using the computer system[17]. All of this involved making use of the resources of the Megaupload computer system. This fulfilled some of the elements of the definition in section 248 of the Crimes Act to which reference was made – “access, in relation to any computer system, means instruct, communicate with, store data in, receive data from, or otherwise make use of any of the resources of the computer system.”

It was also held that the purpose of such access was to obtain pecuniary advantage or financial gain, thus fulfilling that element of s. 249 and the penalties brought the offence within the 4 year definition of serious crime for the purposes of s. 101(B(1)(c).

It is important to note that the discussion of section 249 at this stage is very narrow indeed and suggests that the sectioncan be used as an alternative to commercial copyright infringement. There was no discussion of the nature of “property” and whether a computer file amounted to property as held in Dixon. Further use of section 249 and Dixon in the context of other sections of the Crimes Act is considered in the context of the wire fraud charges.

Section 131 Copyright Act[18]

Section 131 of the Copyright Act creates criminal liability for certain types of copyright infringement that have a commercial quality. The question was whether or not the appellants were involved in the exhibition in public or distribution of infringing copies.

At first glance it would seem that distribution would encompass the activities of Megaupload. The difficulty was that there was another specific form of infringement that covered digital material and that was what is known as the communication right.

The communication right and the distribution right are differentiated in the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Copyright Treaty 1996. The Treaty recognises the important distinction between dissemination by the transfer of possession of a physical embodiment of a protected work (distribution) and dissemination through electronic transmission (communication). Fundamental to the distribution right is the necessity for a tangible object.

In New Zealand the communication right was incorporated into Statute by the Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act 2008. But the provisions of section 131 were not amended to include a breach of the communication right as a form of commercial criminal copyright infringement.

This was not accidental. There were submissions to Parliament that the communication right be incorporated into section 131 from Microsoft and the Motion Picture Association. Indeed the legislation in the United Kingdom incorporated such a provision but New Zealand chose not to follow.

In addition as a further indication that Parliament did not intend to criminalise the commercial infringement of the communication right, section 198 created a criminal offence of dealing in illicit recordings of performances rather than objects which were infringing copies of a copyright work.

The Copyright Act was again reviewed in 2011 when Parliament enacted the Copyright (File Sharing Infringing) Amendment Act 2011. It did not at that time take the opportunity to include a breach of the communication right in section 131.

Thus section 131 relates to tangible objects rather than communication of intangibles such as digital files and was thus not available as a pathway to Count 2 of the indictment.

This was not an unexpected outcome, at least to this commentator, but creates a contradiction. When the search and provisional search warrants were issued the offence alleged was against section 131 of the Copyright Act. Now it transpires that offence was not available. In a case that has not been without its legal controversies, this is one more.

However, the absence of section131 as a pathway does not end the matter. There were, as has been discussed,  other pathways to Count 2 and there were other counts which will be considered, all of which have their own pathways.


Count 4 – Copyright Infringement of the Movie “Taken”[19]

This count alleges that the appellants infringed copyright by distributing a work – the movie Taken) being prepared for commercial distribution in the US.

The Court concluded that neither this nor any of the specific infringement allegation contained in Counts 4 – 8 contained any other elements described in Article II.16 of the Treaty. They were not charged with obtaining property or money and the offending did not match the offending set out in Article II.16

However, the offence did correlate with sections 228 and 249 of the Crimes Act. The requirement of both sections that there be an element of commercial advantage or financial gain were both satisfied. They obtained and used a document – a digital file – dishonestly and without claim of right and this involved accessing a computer which is an element of section 249. In addition the Court considered that the appellants were acting as part of an organised criminal group and on that basis section 101B(1)(c)(ii) was satisfied


Counts 5 – 8 – Other Copyright Infringement[20]

In these counts the nature of the infringement alleged was different. Wilful reproduction and distribution of copyright protected works with a total retail value of more than $US2500 was alleged.

Once again section 131 was not available as a pathway and nor was Article II.16. However, the Judge held, for reasons already articulated, that sections 228 and 249 of the Crimes Act are available to fix the conduct alleged with the necessary criminality.


 Count 3 – Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering[21]

Critical to this count was the necessity of a finding that there were pathways to the copyright allegations. Those pathways having been found the way was open to consider this count since it was predicated on the availability of copyright offences.

The Court analysed the elements, pointing out that money laundering was not an offence in New Zealand when the Treaty was signed in 1970. However, the Treaty did contain in Article II.19 the inclusion of any offence in addition to the listed offences that “transporting” or “transportation” was an element.

The Court observed that there were transfers of money – the proceeds of copyright infringement – by electronic funds transfer. This was in effect a wire transfer and the Court held that the conveying of funds electronically amounted to a transfer and thus Article 11.19 was engaged and thus the offence was an extradition offence.

Counts 9 – 13 – Wire Fraud[22]

There were a number of allegations made by the United States that supported an allegation that the appellants devised a scheme to defraud copyright owners and obtain money by means of false and fraudulent representations and promises. Some of these included misleading copyright owners that access to a file would be disable when in fact only the link was disabled; falsely representing that repeat  infringers had access terminated when in fact they were allowed to continue infringement and were rewarded for it and misrepresenting the Megaupload abuse tool and their notice and takedown procedure.

The US argued that Article II.16 and sections 228, 240 and 249 provided pathway offences for these counts.


Pathway Offences for Wire Fraud

Article II.16

The Judge found that the conduct alleged in these counts corresponded to Article II.16 of the Treaty. It was alleged that the appellants obtained money as a result of false representations. That is another way of saying they received money by false pretences . This allegation satisfied the causal nexus between obtaining money and false pretences.

In addition the counts alleged the money was obtained by a conspiracy to defraud the copyright holders, the essence being that they devised a scheme to defraud copyright holders. That is tantamount to an allegation of conspiracy to defraud and thus article II.16 provided an extradition pathway.[23]

Section 228 – Crimes Act[24]

It was conceded that the emails that were sent to copyright owners in furtherance of the allegedly fraudulent scheme were documents.  Although it was argued that it was necessary to establish that the document had to be used to obtain property or money and that the files were already on the Megaupload system – thus no obtaining. The Judge observed that the definition of obtain meant to obtain or retain. In addition the Judge found that the requirements of s. 101B(1)(c) were satisfied in that the offence was punishable by imprisonment of 4 years or more and involved an organised criminal group. Thus section 228 provided an extradition pathway.[25]

Section 240 Crimes Act[26]

Section 240 of the Crimes Act creates the offence of obtaining or causing loss by deception. There are four circumstances in which the offence may occur, all of them requiring elements of deception on the part of the perpetrator together with an absence of claim of right.

It was conceded that the element of deception could be made out by virtue of false representations that were contained in emails. The element of obtaining was satisfied by the extended definition of obtaining which included retaining, as discussed above.

For the offence to be complete, property had to be obtained. Gilbert J held that the copyright protected films in digital file format were property and cited as authority the case of Dixon v R[27] – a decision of the Supreme Court.

In this commentator’s respectful view Gilbert J read Dixon more widely than was available to him. Dixon was a case that centred around whether or not a digital file was property for the purposes of section 249 of the Crimes Act. The Supreme Court held that it was, and in doing so has introduced a level of uncertainty in the law surrounding the issue of whether or not there is a property right in information. It is my contention – and I have argued it in detail elsewhere – that Dixon was wrongly decided and is both legally and technologically unsound. Nevertheless, until the Supreme Court reconsiders its decision it must stand. However, the scope of the holding, on a strict reading of the decision, is that a digital file is property is limited to the provisions of section 249 of the Crimes Act.[28] The Supreme Court held thus, and to expand the scope of the finding to include digital files as property for offences other than under s. 249 is, in my respectful view, a misinterpretation of Dixon.

But the Court found that s. 240 of the Crimes Act provided an available pathway for the wire fraud counts.

Section 249 Crimes Act[29]

Section 249 of the Crimes Act provided an available pathway for some of the other counts. As far as counts 9 – 13 are concerned it was argued that the purpose of the section was to address computer hacking rather than to cover dishonest acts associated with copyright infringement.

The judge answered this by observing that the definition of a computer system was very broad and included using any of the resources of a computer system. Email plainly fell within that broad scope.

The Judge could also have observed that computer hacking was not the target of section 249 because it did not include unauthorised access to the system as an element of the offence. The important element associated with accessing the computer system is a dishonest or deceptive state of mind associated with certain activities such as obtaining property, a privilege, a service, a pecuniary advantage, a benefit or an advantage.

The behaviour of the appellants that brought them within the scope of section 249 was as follows:

  1. They caused knowingly false responses to be sent to copyright holders in response to takedown notices
  2. To do this they accessed the Megaupload computer system
  3. As a result of accessing the system in this way they thereby dishonestly and by deception and without claim of right obtained a benefit. The benefit was that it enabled Megaupload to retain copyright infringing files on its system. This met the causal connection of accessing the computer system and obtaining a benefit.


It is of interest that Gilbert J preferred to focus on the benefit aspect of section 249 rather than that of property, this invoking Dixon within the context of the Supreme Court finding of the fact that a digital file is property. His focus on the benefit aspect accords with the holding of the Court of Appeal in Dixon.

Count 1 – Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering[30]

Racketeering involves an enterprise – that is a group of individuals and entities associated in fact – engaged in interstate and foreign commerce where the members of the enterprise conspired to conduct its affairs for the purposes of enriching themselves through racketeering activity – in this case criminal copyright infringement, money laundering and wire fraud.

Pursuant to the decision of the Court of Appeal in US v Cullinane[31] racketeering was held not to be an offence under Article II of the Treaty. Racketeering was described as an “umbrella” crime and the Court warned against the use of allowing extradition for umbrella crimes where the offences, if charged separately, would not amount to extradition offences.

However, Cullinane was decided before the enactment of s. 98A of the Crimes Act which creates the crime of participating in an organised criminal group as well as s. 101B(1)(a) of the Extradition Act. This allowed the Court to reconsider whether or not racketeering could fall within the scope of an extraditable offence.

In essence the allegation was that the appellants were associated in fact and this amounted to an enterprise under US law. It was alleged that they continued as a functioning unit for the common purpose of achieving the objectives of the enterprise which was to enrich its members through criminal copyright infringement, money laundering and wire fraud. Furthermore they all actively participated in the enterprise.

The Judge found that the constituent offences – criminal copyright infringement and wire fraud – correlated to New Zealand offences punishable by at least 4 years imprisonment. The common purpose in the US indictment correlated with the requirements of section 98A of the Crimes Act which, if it had occurred in NZ, would be an extradition offence.


Extradition Offences – Conclusion

The result of the Judge’s analysis was that all the counts in the indictment were held to qualify as extradition offences.

One of the very significant aspects of the decision is the way in which provisions of the Crimes Act have been used to provide pathways to copyright infringement. This doesn’t mean that these offences are pathways to only extradition offences, although that it the way that they have been used in this case. The generalised holding means that there are alternatives means of criminalising copyright infringement apart from the provisions of section 131 of the Copyright Act 1994.

The citation of authority by Gilbert J to suggest that for some time criminal offences have been available to address copyright infringement cannot be displaced. In some cases these comments were speculative[32] –in others they were more direct.[33] The decision of Gilbert J now cements these comments into the structure of the law.

This means that copyright owners have different avenues by which they may pursue infringers in the criminal courts where section 131 is not available. Furthermore, while Dixon is still good law, copyright owners may use the provisions of the Crimes Act (given Gilbert J’s wide interpretation of that case) or at least section 249 to pursue infringers for what is effectively “on-line theft” of copyright material. I commented that when it was decided potentially the holding in Dixon could give truth to the mantra “copyright infringement is theft”. That potential has been realised.

Other Aspects of the Extradition Decision

The principle focus of this examination has been upon the identification of the extraditable offences. Given the focus upon the availability of criminal copyright infringement this analysis, although a summary of the decision without reference to the authorities cited, has been undertaken to understand the process by which the identification of extraditable offences was undertaken. However, as far as the case was concerned there were other issues which I shall tough upon briefly.

Evidence to Justify Trial on Each Count[34]

Because of the provision of the Extradition Treaty the United States was entitled to submit a record of the case (ROC) for the purposes of determining eligibility for surrender. There was considerable criticism of the ROC by the appellants. It was suggested, for example, that the ROC contained commentary that was opinion or hyperbole which the Court should ignore in determining sufficiency of evidence.

In the case of Dotcom v US (Disclosure)[35] the nature of the ROC was considered. Glazebrook J agreed that there were conclusory statements in the ROC but that the evidence that was relied upon was set out and that evidence supported the conclusions and inferences that the United States wanted to draw to support the existence of a prima facie case. There was a recognised risk in this process in that if insufficient material was provided, the extradition judge not be satisfied that a prima facie case had been made out.

The mere fact that the ROC and its supplements may contain material that cannot be relied on as evidence does not render the document inadmissible in its entirety. The Judge conducting the eligibility hearing  would have to ensure that there is sufficient summarised evidence to justify each appellant being committed for trial on each extradition offence. In carrying out this function, the Judge will differentiate between what qualifies as a summary of evidence and what does not. Gilbert J observed that The Court is required to determine whether the evidence that is summarised in the record of the case is sufficient to establish a prima facie case. The Court is not excused from this responsibility merely because some of the material in the record of the case does not qualify as summarised evidence[36].

Preservation of Evidence[37]

There was concern that the evidence that had been gathered and its availability might be in question. There was an additional concern about the possible deterioration of the electronic evidence. The Judge noted

“It is for the requesting State to decide what evidence it will rely on to support its request for extradition. The extradition Court is only concerned with whether this evidence is sufficient to justify a trial if the conduct constituting the offence had occurred within the jurisdiction of New Zealand. This will be the case if the Court is satisfied the summarised evidence is sufficient to establish a prima facie case and this evidence has been preserved for use at trial. “The evidence” in s 25(3)(a) plainly refers to the evidence summarised in the record of the case and not to every piece of evidence that has been reviewed in the course of the investigation or which could be relevant at trial. If the appellants’ argument was right, it would mean that if any of Megaupload’s data was lost, no matter how inconsequential for the purposes of a

committal hearing, the entire record of the case would become inadmissible. That

cannot have been what Parliament intended when enacting s 25(3).”[38]


No challenge had been made to the statements that the evidence summarised in the ROC had been preserved for use at trial. It was not a matter of concern for the extradition court to enquire as to whether other evidence had been preserved. That was something that would be evaluated in the context of fair trial issues in the requesting state and it would be contrary to the principle of comity upon which extradition is based for an extradition court to trespass into this domain.

Other Matters

There were a number of other matters of a somewhat technical nature that were raised on behalf of the Appellants. One involved the certification of the ROC by a representative of the US Attorney General’s office a Mr Prabhu.

The purpose of the ROC procedure was to summarise the evidence. Detail was not required. The ROC process is based on the Treaty and the comity and trust between the Treaty partners. In that regard the ROC need not contain briefs, “will say” statements or other documentary proof.

Because the ROC is received the Court requires an appropriate assurance that it discloses the existence of evidence sufficient to justify a trial in the exempted country and the evidence relied on for extradition purposes has been preserved for trial.  The Court observed:

“The purpose of the record of the case is to enable the extradition Court to

determine whether the evidence establishes a prima facie case if the conduct

constituting the offence had occurred within the jurisdiction of New Zealand. This

determination is made according to New Zealand law. The extradition Court in

New Zealand is not concerned with whether the evidence is sufficient to justify a

trial in the exempted country and it would be wholly inappropriate for it to enquire

into this. Parliament intended that the extradition Court would rely on a certificate in proper form from a person qualified to give it. Absent cogent evidence showing that such a certificate is a forgery or has been given in bad faith, the extradition Court cannot look behind it.”[39]


There was also concern expressed about the weight and sufficiency of evidence and the fact that there were a number of conclusory statements in the ROC. Although this matter had been earlier adverted to, it was conceded that such statements did not assist the Court in carrying out its fundamental obligation of weighing the evidence to determine whether the appropriate threshold had been reached. It was for the extradition court to carry out the evaluative process.[40]

Another argument arose about the question of transposition.[41] Transposition arises in extradition cases because the extradition Court is required to proceed on the basis of the fiction that the relevant conduct constituting the offence had occurred within its jurisdiction. But the focus of the extradition Court under the Act is on the conduct constituting the alleged offence, not the offence itself.[42]

Once the Court is satisfied that the request relates to an actual extradition offence there is no need to consider whether the conduct constituting the offence in the requesting state would be an offence under the law of New Zealand if the conduct had occurred here.[43] Thus the extradition Court should not have to determine whether or not conduct constituting the offence would have been an offence under New Zealand law if it had occurred in New Zealand at the relevant time. To do so would be to import a double criminality requirement and that was held not apply in Cullinane.

Within the context of the allegations relating to the movie Taken Gilbert J held that the extradition Court was solely concerned with the alleged conduct constituting the offence, namely that the appellants wilfully infringed those rights by making the film available to members of the public on a computer network.[44]

Thus for the purposes of its determination under s. 24(2)(d)(i) of the Extradition Act the Court had to concentrate on the acts or omissions of the requested person, being those acts or omissions identified for the purposes of s 24(2)(c) as constituting the extradition offence.

In a case involving alleged copyright infringement by making a copyright protected work available to members of the public without licence, the question of whether or not copyright subsisted in the relevant work in the United States at the relevant time is not an act or omission of the requested person and falls outside the scope of the enquiry. The extradition Court is not required to determine this issue, which would necessitate consideration of foreign law, a task it is ill-suited to undertake. The existence of copyright in the works at the time is a circumstance or “state of things” that is transposed to New Zealand as part of the relevant legal environment against which the evidence of the requested person’s conduct must be assessed.[45]

The Judge went on to consider in some detail the evidence as it related to each of the offences[46] and concluded that the evidence contained in the ROC disclosed a prima face case on each count. This effectively disposed of the extradition issue. It should be noted that there were a number of other technical arguments that were raised and which I will not discuss in this context. In addition there were applications that were made by the appellants for a stay of proceedings on the grounds of unfairness arising from lack of funds to properly mount an opposition to the application and for judicial review of the approach by the Judge in the District Court to the conduct of the proceedings. Those matters, although tied in with the original proceedings do not take the issue of extradition any further.


This case is a helpful one for those involved in extradition law. The Judge carefully articulated the principles and outlines and defined the processes by which extradition cases should be approached and considered. Although the Law Commission has released a paper on Extradition and recommends possible changes that can be made to the law, it may well be some time before those recommendations, or any of them, find their way to the statute book. The methodical approach undertaken by Gilbert J provides Ariadne’s thread for judges who will have to consider extradition in the future.

The case is particularly significant for the way in which Gilbert J considers the conduct that is criminalised by the counts in the US indictment and then looks for various pathway offences in New Zealand law which mirror that conduct.

The problem was that the United States case was grounded primarily upon copyright infringement. It tried to invoke section 131 of the Copyright Act as a corresponding offence at New Zealand law. But for the reason that a particular type of infringement was not specified in s. 131 – the communication right – that section was not available. So the judge went looking for other pathways which could incorporate the behaviour or conduct that reflected the count in the indictment. In so doing he held that the provisions of sections 228, 240 and 249 of the Crimes Act could, in cases involving certain types of behaviour, provide alternative pathways to what is effectively copyright offending.

This is somewhat curious because notwithstanding the invocation by the Judge of a number of authorities that supported the extension of the criminal law to include certain types of infringing behaviour, the issue is by no means uncontroversial and there are those who argue that the Copyright Act is a code, dealing with interference with a statutorily created property right, and one should not go beyond that legislation to seek a remedy.

Indeed, in his consideration of the applicability of section 131 the Judge gave a detailed analysis of the history of the legislation to demonstrate that the omission from section 131 of the communication right was deliberate and not an accidental oversight. Thus it was clearly a policy decision made by the Legislature.

Yet this case judicially extends the scope of the Crimes Act to include behaviour that would otherwise be caught by the civil infringement provisions and which is not caught by section 131. With respect, this seems to fly in the face of his careful analysis of Legislative intent in terms of criminal copyright infringement.

In Stevens v Kabushiki Kaisha Sony Computer Entertainment Ltd[47]  at issue was the question of the interpretation of a provision of Australian copyright legislation. The High Court cautioned against Courts getting involved in making policy decisions about legislation which was properly the bailiwick of Parliament. The Court observed

“The Parliament having chosen such an elaborate and specific definition for the key provision of the legislative scheme, a court should pause before stretching the highly specific language in order to overcome a supposed practical problem.”[48]


Although that comment is directed towards a particular provision of legislation and the scope thereof, it is suggested that the argument can be extended to address the criminalisation of infringing behaviour that does not fall within the scope of the Copyright Act. Using the Judge’s own reasoning path, if Parliament had intended such behaviour to be criminalised, it would have said so, and indeed had ample opportunity to do so from 1998 onwards.

The difficulty is this. It appears that the law of unintended consequences has resulted in the criminalisation of certain types of infringing behaviour. Factor in the use of a computer and s. 249 of the Crimes Act comes in to play. I doubt it was intended that this section would be used to criminalise copyright infringement. Nor is it my view that the Supreme Court in its expedient decision in Dixon expected that its definition of “property” as a digital file could have criminal copyright infringement consequences. This is what I have called else where a Collision in the Digital paradigm.

The collision assumes  greater proportions when one realises that, although Gilbert J’s findings were within the context of developing pathways for the purposes of identifying an extraditable offence, his interpretation applies with equal force to domestic law. The question now becomes one of whether copyright owners will pick their way through the collision and seek Police assistance in prosecuting individual acts of copyright infringement that fall outside s. 131. The matter requires legislative consideration.

Gilbert J’s decision will not be the final word on the subject – indeed he acknowledges this and it explains why the decision is so detailed, complex and voluminous. He is writing for the appeal court as well as for the parties. But the appeal pathways are not that straightforward. A strict approach to the appellate process means that not all these cases will automatically end up in the Supreme Court. As matters stand the Court of Appeal is the final court for the extradition matter. However, the judicial review proceedings do still have an appeal pathway to the Supreme Court. Whether or not the Supreme Court, for the sake of convenience, decides to grant special leave to appeal the extradition side of the case, remains to be seen.

But wait – do I hear you say? Aren’t you assuming something here and that is that there WILL be appeals. Given the past conduct of the parties, I suggest that it is inevitable that the appeal process will go as far as it possibly can. Although the US effectively “won” before Gilbert J there remains the issue of the applicability of section 131. My view is that path was never available but I have no doubt that the US will cross-appeal that aspect of the decision. The Dotcom case has further contributions to make to the development of legal principle in the Digital Paradigm.


[1] Robert Graves The Greek Myths “Theseus in Crete”

[2] Ortmann & Ors v US [2017] NZHC 189 at paras [37] – [45].

[3] The “Ariadne’s Thread” of the title.

[4] Ortmann above n. 2 at paras [57] – [192].

[5] Ibid. at paras [77] – [133].

[6] Ibid. at paras [87] – [112].

[7] See for example World TV Ltd v Best TV Ltd (2005) 11 TCLR 247.

[8] [2015] NZSC 147; [2016] 1 NZLR 678.

[9] Ortmann above n 2 at para [132].

[10] Ibid. at paras [134] – [160].

[11] Above n. 8.

[12] Ortmann above n.3 at para [143].

[13] Extradition Act s. 101B(1)(c)(ii) as defined in the Transnational Organised Crime Convention (TOC).

[14] Ortmann above n. 3 para [150].

[15] Ibid. para [160]. The full analysis is contained in paras [147] – [160].

[16] Ibid. paras [161] – [168].

[17] Ibid. at para [166].

[18] Ibid para [169] – [192].

[19] Ibid. para [193] – [199].

[20] Ibid. para [200] – [201].

[21] Ibid. para [202] – [212].

[22] Ibid. paras [213] – [230]

[23] Ibid. para [217] – [219].

[24] Ibid. para [220] – [222].

[25] Ibid. para [220] – [222].

[26] Ibid. para [223] – [225].

[27] Above n. 8.

[28] Dixon above n. 8 para [50] – [51].

[29] Ortmann above n. 3 para [226] – [230].

[30] Ibid. para [231] – [238].

[31] [2003] 2 NZLR 1 (CA).

[32] See Cooke P in Busby v Thorn EMI Video Programmes Ltd [1984] 1 NZLR 461

[33] See Scott v Metropolitan Police Commissioner [1975] AC 819 (HL)

[34] Ortmann above n. 3 at paras [239] – [245]

[35] Dotcom v US (Disclosure) [2014] NZSC 24; [2014] 2 NZLR 629.

[36] Ortmann above n 3 at para [253].

[37] Ibid. para [254] – [259].

[38] Ibid at para [258].

[39] Ibid. at para [263].

[40] Ibid at para [273].

[41] Ibid at paras [274] – [294].

[42] Ibid at para [277].

[43] Ibid at para [279].

[44] Ibid at para [291].

[45] Ibid at para [294].

[46] Ibid at paras [302] – [386].

[47] [2005] HCA 58.

[48] Stevens v Sony at para [204].

Forgetfulness and the Clean Slate – Collisions in the Digital Paradigm IX


The law of obligations, in a most general sense, is the subject of civil disputes that arise between individuals or corporate bodies. Obligations may arise from the common law or from statute. But apart from providing a forum for the resolution of these disputes – the Courts – the State plays little or no active role.

The situation is different with offences created by statute for which a penalty is provided. In a most general sense these are described as crimes but from a purely literalist perspective, crimes are only those offences created by the Crimes Act 1961. Of course offences like dealing in or importing Class A drugs, offences against the Misuse of Drugs Act carry with them penalties as severe as those prescribed under the Crimes Act.

In essence what underlies an offence is that the behaviour prohibited falls below the bottom line of acceptable behaviour in a society, and which society deems should be the subject of prosecution by the State on behalf of the community. The penalties imposed by law following upon a conviction reflect the odium with which society views the behaviour.

The gravity of the behaviour is often measured by the nature of the penalty imposed and the way in which offences may be classified. Crimes as set out in the Crimes Act 1961 involve offences where the penalty of 1 year’s imprisonment or more may be imposed. Offences under the Summary Offence Act 1981, dealing with matters such as disorderly behaviour or low level assault or threatening behaviour carry penalties of a fine or a short term of imprisonment – up to 3 months for most although 6 months imprisonment is the maximum for Summary Offences assault.

The Land Transport Act also has offences involving the use of motor vehicles which carry penalties of fines, imprisonment and disqualification from driving. There is a graduated scale of penalties of potential imprisonment and disqualification for repeat drink drive or driving while disqualified offenders.

And it must be noted that with certain very limited exceptions a penalty cannot be imposed without a conviction being entered. The entry of a conviction of itself carries a certain stigma. Overseas travellers will be familiar with immigration documents that ask whether or not the traveller has been convicted of an offence and different countries have different policies about who they will let in who have been convicted a certain offences. Convictions for offences may also affect an individual’s job prospects, or how and to what extent he or she may engage in community activities. The presence of a conviction carries its own stigma.

By the same token a conviction sends a message about an individual. A person who has repeat offences for dishonesty demonstrates a tendency towards dishonest behaviour. Would that particular fox be placed in the henhouse of a banking job or a position where an accounting for money was required. On the other hand, youthful indiscretions – disorderly behaviour by a group of students celebrating their graduation – may be the only blot upon an otherwise clean copybook. Should a person who leads an exemplary life for years after some stupid low level misbehaviour that amounts to an offence, carry that mariner’s albatross for the rest of his or her life.

The Clean Slate Act

The Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004 sets up a clean slate scheme. Under the clean slate scheme an eligible individual

(a) is deemed to have no criminal record for the purposes of any question asked of him or her about his or her criminal record; and

(b) has the right to have his or her criminal record concealed by government departments and law enforcement agencies that hold or have access to his or her criminal record.

The Act is not that easy to understand but eligibility is the key component. Eligibility is acquired under section 7 and requires a number of boxes to be ticked. Shortly summarised these are

  • There must be the completion of a rehabilitation period and
  • No custodial sentence has ever been imposed; and
  • No orders have been made under legislation dealing with mental competence issues and criminal liability and
  • The person has not been convicted of a specified offence set out in section 4 of the Clean Slate Act; and
  • Where a fine or reparation has been imposed, those amounts have been paid; and
  • In the case of an order for compensation, that amount has been paid or remitted and
  • No order for indefinite disqualification has been imposed.

Perhaps the most critical aspect of the above criteria if the definition of a rehabilitation period. In relation to an individual, that means any period of not less than 7 consecutive years after the date on which the individual was last sentenced, or a specified order was last made, in which the individual has not been convicted of an offence. Thus a rehabilitation period is 7 consecutive years without reoffending.

Interestingly enough the Act is silent on what offences qualify for clean slate protection. It is NOT silent on the offences which do not qualify and those specified offences involve a range of sexual and indecency offences. Thus it is possible that a person who is convicted of burglary and who fulfils all the criteria list above could claim clean slate protection. What is difficult for many is where a custodial offence has been imposed, not necessarily for the particular offence but for any offence, or where an order for indefinite disqualification has been imposed. To qualify for clean slate protection a person must fulfil each of the seven criteria.

The Effect of the Clean Slate

Section 14 provides in detail the effect of the Cleans Slate.

  • If an individual is an eligible individual, he or she is deemed to have no criminal record for the purposes of any question asked of him or her about his or her criminal record.
  • An eligible individual may answer a question asked of him or her about his or her criminal record by stating that he or she has no criminal record.
  • Nothing in subsection 1 or 2 above—
  • prevents an eligible individual stating that he or she has a criminal record, disclosing his or her criminal record, or consenting to the disclosure of his or her criminal record; or
  • authorises an individual to answer a question asked of him or her about his or her criminal record by stating that he or she has no criminal record if the question is asked—
  • under the jurisdiction of the law of a foreign country while an eligible individual is outside New Zealand; or
  • while he or she is in New Zealand but relates to a matter dealt with by the law of a foreign country (for example, a question asked on an application form by the immigration or customs agency of a foreign country).

It will be noted particularly that the Clean Slate provisions really only are effective in New Zealand. A person cannot invoke the Clean Slate provisions if they are entering a foreign country where a question is asked about previous convictions. In those circumstances, convictions must be disclosed.

It should also be noted that section 19 sets out specific exceptions to the applicability of the Clean Slate regime.

Publication and the Clean Slate

The Clean Slate Act – sections 9 and 10 – allows individuals to apply to the Court for exemption from the rehabilitation period or that a conviction be disregarded in certain circumstances. Section 13 of the Act prima facie prohibits publication of the name of an applicant for such exemptions or any particulars leading to the identification of the applicant. However these details may be published in certain limited circumstances.

If a person has access to criminal records and discloses the criminal record of an eligible person a finable offence is committed.

If the person requires or requests that an individual—

  • disregard the effect of the clean slate scheme when answering a question about his or her criminal record; or
  • disregard the effect of the clean slate scheme and disclose, or give consent to the disclosure of, his or her criminal record

then a finable offence is committed.

The Right to be Forgotten

When the applicability of the European concept of the right to be forgotten is discussed in the context of New Zealand, the Clean Slate Act is advanced as an example. However, the Clean Slate Act in some ways goes further than the Google Spain decision. Remember, Google Spain was about deindexing Mr Costeja-Gonzales name from associations with a public notice that appeared in the La Vanguardia newspaper. It did not eliminate the article – the primary information – itself.

The Clean Slate Act goes well beyond that. It effectively gives a right to be forgotten in the sense that the eligible individual does not have to disclose a previous conviction if it falls within the Act, can effectively deny such conviction exists although the power of disclosure remains with the individual. This means that the Act allows the eligible individual to redefine him or herself in respect of facts of earlier criminal conviction.

As the law stands at the moment, the power lies with the individual to disclose or not disclose. In that respect the eligible individual controls the right to be forgotten. However, the disclosure of the criminal conviction of an eligible individual amounts to an offence only if it is made by a person who has access to criminal records and a criminal record is defined as a record kept by or on behalf of the Crown. Information acquired by newspapers in the course of Court reporters, bloggers or website hosts who publish cases, naming an individual who has been convicted, and who subsequently becomes eligible, commit no offence.

Publicists in that case commit no offence by publishing the name of a person appearing before the Court contemporaneously with the event. The problem has now become (and was on the horizon in 2004 when the legislation was enacted) associated with the preservative power of digital technologies and the concept of the document or information that does not die. A Google search may reveal the name of an eligible person and hyperlink to the blog, website or online newspaper. So should there be deindexing of the names of eligible persons where the linked to sites contain information about previous convictions? Or should the source information be taken down?

There are a number of thorny issues surrounding this including freedom of the press, the neutrality of Internet based searches along with the underlying integrity of the Clean Slate Act. And this problem has come to the attention of the Privacy Commissioner.

Privacy Concerns

The concerns of the Privacy Commission are expressed in the following way:

A number of newspapers in New Zealand have a practice of publishing the names and conviction details of everyone prosecuted in the local court. This includes those convictions covered by the Clean Slate Act.

This effectively nullifies the intended effect of the Act for these people, as most newspapers are now online as well as in print. A quick Google search for someone’s name can unearth details that were suppressed by the Clean Slate Act.

Further, the newspapers that publish the details of petty crime tend to be in smaller towns, as it’s impractical for larger metropolitan newspapers to print the details of every conviction. So the Clean Slate Act effectively increases the consequences of relatively minor offences for people who live in small towns. This does not seem fair, particularly in the context of the economic opportunity gap between urban and rural New Zealand.

This issue is one of the loose collection of issues covered by the still-developing idea of the “right to be forgotten,” which we wrote about in 2014.  That is, the idea that some public information might become private after a certain amount of time has passed.

The Clean Slate Act was one of New Zealand’s first “right to be forgotten” laws. Perhaps it is time to look at what responsibility media have to let people move on. If a quick Google search is all it takes to find someone’s past transgressions, then in practical terms, their slate isn’t very clean at all.

 Concluding Thoughts

This post is not a critique about the policies behind the Clean Slate Act nor is it part of a newly heralded debate about a review of that legislation. Rather my purpose is to raise a few issues that need to be considered.

The first is this. Removing information from the Internet is at best an inadequate solution. The information may be located in a number of places and the disseminatory qualities of digital technologies mean that the information may be removed from an online news site, but it may still be available on social media platforms, possibly YouTube or on any one of a number of blog sites. So the effectiveness of the proposal is an issue that must be considered.

The second issue is whether or not the obscurity that is sought by removal of online content will achieve its objective. Newspaper archives and hard copy retains the information, albeit in a form more difficult to access than that placed on the Internet.

The third issue is one to which I have already referred. Freedom of the press and the associated right of the public to know the business of the Courts as an arm of Government per medium the newspaper as proxy is a jealously guarded right and one which will not be easily yielded by the news media. Newspapers provide an important record of community activities from an historical and social point of view in addition to their role as public surrogates. The information that they contain is of continuing interest. And it must be remembered that the Clean Slate Act vests the right of invocation in the hands of the eligible individual. It does not prohibit enquiry by a third party into a person’s past of sources other than the eligible person.

And that gives rise to a fourth issue and it is that a freedom of expression – the right guaranteed under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act to impart and receive information. Care  must be exercised if interference with that right is contemplated.

So what is a person to do – someone who is eligible to invoke Clean Slate but whose previous conviction is on a newspaper website and who, as a consequence, is finding it difficult to get a job. If the circumstances are such that the person is caused harm – serious emotional distress – as a result of continued frustration in finding a job – the provisions of the Harmful Digital Communications Act could be available and, if all the criteria are satisfied may beinvoked. Truth is not a defence to a takedown order under that Act and it may well be that the initial intercession by the Approved Agency will arrive at a satisfactory result.

Whatever follows from this interesting but controversial proposal will be an interesting debate and one which once again will match existing social policy with the realities of the Digital Paradigm

Further Obscurity on the Internet – Collisions in the Digital Paradigm VIII



Yet again a Court of law has made an order against Google, requiring it to deindex search results in a particular case. This example does not deal with the so-called “right to be forgotten” but with issues surrounding efforts by one company to infringe the intellectual property rights of another. But Google’s involvement in this case as not as a party to the action. They were not involved. No wrongdoing by them was alleged. All they did was provide index links via their automated processes. These links were to the infringers. An injunction was sought to compel de-indexing not just in the country where the case was heard but world wide.

Equustek v Jack

Equustek v Jack came before the British Columbia Supreme Court in 2014. The circumstances of the case were these.

Equustek manufactured electronic networking devices for industrial use.  A company named Datalink created a competing product. Equustek claimed that one of its former employees conspired with Datalink, and the competing product used Equustek’s trade secrets and trademarks.

Equustek commenced proceedings against Datalink and a number of individual defendants.  The Datalink defendants did not play any part in the litigation and their defences were struck out but they continued to sell products from a number of websites.

Pending trial the Supreme Court made a number of interlocutory orders against the defendants including an  order prohibiting the defendants from dealing with Equustek’s intellectual property. Even the issue of a criminal arrest warrant against one of the defendants did not stop the sale of the disputed products on the web from undisclosed locations.

So far the case is procedurally unremarkable. But what happened next is quite extraordinary. Equustek turned to Google and asked it to stop indexing the defendant’s websites worldwide. Google voluntarily removed 345 URLs from search results on But the problem remained. Almost all the infringing material was still available online. So Equustek took the matter a step further.

Remember, Google was not a party to the original suit. They had not been involved in the allegations of intellectual property infringement . Google’s response to Equustek’s approach was a co-operative one. They did not have to comply with Equustek’s request.

Equustek sought an order from the Court restraining Google from  displaying any part of the websites with which it was concerned on any search results worldwide. The order was in the nature of an interlocutory injunction. The grounds for the application were that Google’s search engine facilitated the defendants’ ongoing breach of court orders.

Google argued that the court did not have jurisdiction over Google or should decline jurisdiction, In any event it should not issue the requested injunction. The Court observed that the application raised  novel questions about the Court’s authority to make such an order against a global internet service provider.

The court held that it had jurisdiction over Google because Google, through its search engine and advertising business, carried on business in British Columbia. This in itself is not remarkable. It is consistent with the theory of connection with the forum jurisdiction and the concept of the grounding of activities in the forum state that gives rise to  a Court’s jurisdictional competence. Cases abound arising from e-commerce and Internet based business activities.

The court considered that Google’s search engine websites were not passive information sites, but rather were interactive and displayed targeted advertisements. The court noted that this rationale might give every state in the world jurisdiction over Google’s search services, but noted that was a consequence of a multinational doing business on a global scale rather than from a flaw in the territorial competence analysis.

Again this is a reality of jurisdictional theory. In the Australian defamation case of Dow Jones v Gutnick it was observed that a cause of action might lie in every country where publication of the defamatory article had taken place. Mr Gutnick undertook to commence only in Australia because that is where his reputation lay and needed to be vindicated.

The court also refused to decline jurisdiction over Google, because Google failed to establish that another jurisdiction (California) was a more appropriate forum and the court could effectively enforce its order against Google outside Canada. This is what is called a forum conveniens argument – it will arise in the context not of whether or not a court has jurisdiction but where jurisdiction may lie in two states (in this case British Columbia, Canada and California, United States of America) which court should properly hear the case.

The Court found that it had authority to grant an injunction with extra-territorial effect against a non-party resident in a foreign jurisdiction if it is just or convenient to do so.

The judge observed that new circumstances require adaptation of existing remedies  – an aspect of the reality of e-commerce with its potential for abuse. This would be especially so if there was to be any credibility and integrity of Court orders.

The court then considered the test for ordering an injunction against a third party. The standard test was modified.

 (1) a good arguable case or fair question to be tried (which relates to the plaintiff’s claim against defendant); and

 (2) a balancing of the interests (irreparable harm and convenience) of the plaintiff and the non-party to whom the injunction would apply.

The court identified a number of relevant considerations, including

  1. whether the third party is somehow involved in the defendant’s wrongful acts;
  2. whether the order against the third party is the only practicable means to obtain the relief sought;
  3. whether the third party can be indemnified for the costs to which it will be exposed by the order;
  4. whether the interests of justice favour the granting of the order; and
  5. the degree to which the interests of persons other than the applicant and the non-party could be affected.

The court granted the injunction against Google requiring Google to block the defendants’ websites (identified in the court order) from Google’s search engine results worldwide finding that Google was unwittingly facilitating the defendants’ ongoing breaches of court orders, and there was no other practical way to stop the defendants.

Google appealed to the British Columbia Court of Appeal who upheld the order issued at first instance.

Equustek v Google

The Court of Appeal observed that it is unusual for courts to grant remedies against persons who are not parties to an action. The reasons for this are obvious – most civil claims are concerned with the vindication of a right, and the remedial focus will be on that right. Further, notions of justice demand that procedural protections be afforded to a person against whom a remedy is sought. The usual method of providing such protections is to require the claimant to bring an action against the respondent, giving the respondent the rights of a party.

However, this does not mean that the Courts are powerless to issue orders against non-parties. What is known as a Norwich Pharmcal order was cited as an example. There are, in fact, many types of orders that are routinely made against non-parties – subpoenas to witnesses, summonses for jury duty and garnishing orders are common examples. Many of these orders have a statutory basis or are purely procedural, but others derive from the inherent powers of the court or are more substantive in nature.

The Appeal Court observed that Canadian courts have jurisdiction to grant injunctions in cases where there is a justiciable right, even if the court is not, itself, the forum where the right will be determined. Canadian courts have also long recognized that injunctions aimed at maintaining order need not be directed solely to the parties to the litigation.

Google argued that the Court should not grant an injunction with extraterritorial effect. It submitted

As a matter of law, the court is not competent to regulate the activities of non-residents in foreign jurisdictions. This competence-limiting rule is dictated both by judicial pragmatism and considerations of comity. The pragmatic consideration is that the court should not make an order that it cannot enforce. The comity consideration is that the court refrains from purporting to direct the activities of persons in other jurisdictions and expects courts in other jurisdictions to reciprocate.

The Court did not accept that the case law establishes the broad proposition that the court is not competent to regulate the activities of non-residents in foreign jurisdictions.

The Court noted that the case exhibited a sufficient real and substantial connection to British Columbia to be properly within the jurisdiction of the Province’s courts.

From a comity perspective, the question must be whether, in taking jurisdiction over the matter, British Columbia courts have failed to pay due respect to the right of other courts or nations. The only comity concern that was articulated in this case was the concern that the order made by the trial judge could interfere with freedom of expression in other countries. For that reason, there had to be considerable caution in making orders that might place limits on expression in another country. The Court stated that where there is a realistic possibility that an order with extraterritorial effect may offend another state’s core values, the order should not be made.

In considering the issue of freedom of expression the Court noted that there was no realistic assertion that the judge’s order would offend the sensibilities of any other nation.

It was not suggested that the order prohibiting the defendants from advertising wares that violate the intellectual property rights of the plaintiffs offended the core values of any nation. The Court noted that the order made against Google is a very limited ancillary order designed to ensure that the plaintiffs’ core rights are respected.

The Court also noted that there were a number of cases where orders had been made with international implications. Cases such as APC v. Auchan Telecom, 11/60013, Judgment (28 November 2013) (Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris); McKeogh v. Doe (Irish High Court, case no. 20121254P); Mosley v. Google, 11/07970, Judgment (6 November 2013) (Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris); Max Mosley v. Google (see “Case Law, Hamburg District Court: Max Mosley v. Google Inc. online: Inform’s Blog Moserly v Crossley – Hamburg) and ECJ Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v. Agencia Española de Protecciób de Datos, Mario Costeja González, C-131/12 [2014], CURIA are well known to Internet lawyers.

Some of the cases involving extraterritorial implications have been controversial, such as La Ligue contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme c. La Société YAHOO!Inc., Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris (May 22, 2000 and November 20, 2000), Court File No. 00/05308 and YAHOO! INC. v. La Ligue contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme, 169 F.Supp. 2d 1181 (N. Dist. Cal., 2001) rev’d 379 F.3d 1120 (9th Cir., 2004) and 433 F.3d 1199 (9th Cir. en banc, 2006)).

This extensive case law does indicates that courts in other countries do not see extraterritorial orders as being unnecessarily intrusive or contrary to the interests of comity.


Google appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada and leave to appeal has been granted. Thus, there is one more act to this drama to be played out.

One issue that will need to be resolved is whether the order that was made can be even be granted against a third party not involved in any wrongful activity. If so, the test to obtain such an order will need to be determined, as well as its geographic and temporal scope.

What about the issue of access to justice? In many areas of law, courts have expressed concern that effective remedies should not be limited to individuals or companies with deep pockets. The type of order granted against Google is certainly an effective additional remedy from a plaintiff’s perspective. But are only large corporates expected to be the sole parties in cases such as these simply because they are large corporates with a high profile. Only Google seems to be a party in this case – no other search engine features.

Furthermore what are the boundaries of a Canadian court’s territorial jurisdiction. May a Canadian court order a search engine company in California to prevent users in other countries from viewing entire websites? It is also expected that Google will raise constitutional issues, specifically whether blocking search results limits access to information or freedom of expression on the Internet.

But there is more to the case than this. It involves the ability to locate Internet based information that is facilitated by search engines. This case has the same impact on the Internet as Google Spain  – its consequence is de-indexing of information.

The decision is unremarkable for its application of conflict of laws theory. But having said that, the issue of extraterritorialty is a complex one, and because other jurisdictions and Courts have made extraterritorial orders that may or may not be enforceable does not mean that such an order is correct of justified in law. The anti-Nazi organisations LICRA and UEJEF found this out when Yahoo, having had extraterritorial orders made against it in France came to the US Courts seeking a declaration that they were unenforceable. Would Google be on less firm ground if it adopts a similar course of action against Equustek – assuming that a US Court has jurisdiction?

Throttling the Web

The development of the World Wide Web was, in the vision of Tim Berners-Lee, to assist in making information available and, creating a method of accessing stored information and sharing it.  Yet it had already become clear, even pre-Web, that locating information was a problem and the solution lay in developing search engines of means of locating a specific piece or pieces of information. Search engines such as Gopher provided a form of a solution in the pre-graphical interface, pre-Web environment, and there were a number of search engines such as Altavista, Lycos, Find-What, GoTo, Excite, Infoseek, RankDex, WebCrawler Yahoo, Hotbot, Inktomi and AskJeeves that provided assistance in locating elusive content. However, the entry of Google into the marketplace, and the development of innovative search algorithms meant that Google became the default source for locating information.

What must be remembered is that Google is a search and indexing engine. It does not store the source information, other than in cached form. Using some advanced mathematics, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed a method for measuring the links across websites by ranking a website more highly when other sites linked to it. Putting it very simply, the algorithm measured the popularity of a webpage. Utilising the hypertext link of Berners-Lee, Google locates content and enables a user to access it.

As a lawyer\technologist, I see Equustek v Google in the same way as I saw Google Spain – as a clog on progress that may slow the development and promise of information systems that depend upon a reliable search facility to locate information on the greatest central source of information that the world has ever known. The propositions that underlie Google Spain and Equustek and the application of law in this area amounts to a real and significant collision in the Digital Paradigm. Perhaps it is time for the Courts to understand that an automated indexing system that is completely content neutral and involves no human input into the way that it identifies and indexes should be seen as simply an intermediary and no more. Google is able to monetise its search engine  but to suggest that its search engine is not a passive information system, but rather is interactive and displays targeted advertisements in and of itself is, in my respectful view, insufficient justification to require a de-indexing of search results.

DIXON v R –Game Over for Digital Property? I Think Not.


On 20 October 2015, the Supreme Court of New Zealand delivered its decision in the matter of an appeal by Jonathan Dixon against a conviction on a charge of accessing a computer for a dishonest purpose pursuant to s 249 Crimes Act[1].  It was alleged that Mr Dixon had accessed a computer system and dishonestly and without claim of right obtained any property.  In short, what Mr Dixon had done was to copy some digital footage from a CCTV security system operated by a bar in Queenstown.  Mr Dixon obtained the footage from a receptionist for the company and transferred the files onto a USB stick, deleting them from a desktop computer where they resided.

The Judge at first instance considered that the digital CCTV files were property within the meaning of the definition of that word in s 2 Crimes Act.  When the matter went before the Court of Appeal, the Court disagreed[2].  It concluded that digital information or a data file did not fall within the definition of property.

The Court of Appeal’s decision was the subject of considerable critical comment.  It was even suggested that the provisions of s 249 Crimes Act were “unfit for the purpose”.  Yet the decision should not have come as any surprise for there is a substantial body of authority, primarily in the civil arena, that supports the Court’s conclusion.  Subsequently the Court made  similar finding was reached in the case of Watchorn v R[3].

What the Court of Appeal did in Dixon however, was to substitute another charge which could have been proffered against Mr Dixon – that he accessed a computer and dishonestly and without claim of right obtained a benefit.  In its decision the Court of Appeal went to some pains to consider the nature of a benefit and substitute it at charge.

Mr Dixon appealed against that conclusion to the Supreme Court of New Zealand.  In its decision, the Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Appeal’s conclusion that a digital file did not amount to property was wrong.  It quashed Mr Dixon’s conviction for obtaining a benefit contrary to s 249(1)(a) and it reinstated his original conviction for obtaining property by accessing a computer system for a dishonest purpose. Phyrric victory does not adequately describe the outcome from Mr. Dixon’s point of view.

The Court started by considering the provisions of s 249(1) of the Crimes Act.

249 Accessing computer system for dishonest purpose

(1)        Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years who, directly or indirectly, accesses any computer system and thereby, dishonestly or by deception, and without claim of right,—

(a)          obtains any property, privilege, service, pecuniary advantage, benefit, or valuable consideration; or

(b)          causes loss to any other person.


It then went on to consider the definitions of “access” and “computer system” contained in s 248 Crimes Act.  The Court observed that a relevant feature of the definitions was that “computer system” included “stored data” and “access” included receiving data from a computer system. The Court later observed that the definition of a computer system included “software” of which more later.

The Court then went on to consider the definition of “property” contained in s 2 of the Crimes Act.

property includes real and personal property, and any estate or interest in any real or personal property, money, electricity, and any debt, and any thing in action, and any other right or interest

Arnold J, writing for the Court, noted that the definition is:

(a)        inclusive rather than exclusive;

(b)        circular in that the property is defined as including real and personal property; and

(c)        in wide terms and, in particular, includes tangible and intangible property.

The Court went on to observe that within the broader statutory context the term “goods” in the Commerce Act 1986, the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993, the Fair Trading Act 1986 and the Sale of Goods Act 1908 is defined, to avoid doubt, to include computer software. It observed that, when considering the inclusion of software in consumer legislation the Commerce Committee stated:

The interest in the software the consumer receives does not differ significantly from other goods involving the transfer as an interest in intellectual property, and for which the guarantees and remedies relating to goods are more relevant and applicable to the guarantees and remedies related to services.  We recommend that computer software be added to the definition of goods for the avoidance of doubt.[4]


In reading the decision in a linear fashion, it was not immediately apparent at this stage of the Court’s reasoning what relevance software as goods might have to the issue of whether data was property but the issue becomes clear later in the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Court went on to consider the Judge’s finding that the definition of “property” in the Crimes Act was wide and, indeed, sufficiently wide to cover a digital file.  It then went on to consider the decision of the Court of Appeal.  The Court of Appeal’s starting point was that digital files were not property within the meaning of the definition of the Crimes Act because they were pure information.  The Court of Appeal had adopted what it described as an “orthodox” view that information, whether confidential or not, was not property.  It observed that the medium upon which information could be stored would be property but the information upon it would not.  Therefore, the digital footing could not be distinguished from information on this basis. The Court of Appeal observed that it was problematic to treat computer data as being analogous to information recorded in physical form.  It observed that a Microsoft Word document may appear to be the same as a visible sheet of paper containing text but in fact was simply a stored sequence of bytes.

The Court of Appeal considered whether or not it should depart from this orthodox view, observing that the distinction drawn between information which was not property and the medium upon which it was contained had been criticised as illogical and unprincipled.  The Court of Appeal’s view was that there were certain policy reasons militating against the recognition of information as property particularly in that such a decision could impact detrimentally upon the free flow of information and the freedom of speech.

The Court noted that when it enacted the computer crime sections of the Crimes Act there were also amendments to the definition of “property” but that these were limited.  The taking of confidential information or trade secrets was encompassed by s 230 Crimes Act. It considered that the provisions in s 249 relating to property were aimed at situations where a person accessed a computer and used, for example, a false or purloined credit card details to obtain goods unlawfully.

Before the Supreme Court counsel for the Crown stepped away from arguing that pure information was property.  Rather, the argument was focused upon the fact that digital files were property because they could be owned and dealt with in the same way as other items of personal property.  Thus the Court was able to sidestep dealing with the major finding of the Court of Appeal and could approach the problem from a different angle.

Another reason for the Court not considering the “pure information as property” issue was that Mr Dixon had dismissed his lawyer prior to the hearing and, accordingly, the point was not fully argued, and therefore it was considered that it was not an appropriate occasion to reconsider what the Court of Appeal had referred to as the orthodox view.

The Supreme Court started with considering the issue of context and observed that the meaning of the word “property” varies with its context.  It referred to comment made by Gummow and Hayne JJ in Kennon v Spry [5]where they stated:

The term “property” is not a term …with one specific and precise meaning.  It is always necessary to pay close attention to any statutory context in which the term is used.

The Court then went on to observe that within the context of s 249(1)(a) and in light of the definition of “property” in s 2, there was no doubt that the digital files at issue were property and not simply information.  The Court considered that digital files are identifiable, have a value and are capable of being transferred to others.  They also have a physical presence although that cannot be detected by means of the unaided senses.  It may be that they could be classified as tangible or intangible but nevertheless the Court concluded that digital files were property for the purposes of s 249(1)(a). However, the Court omitted to discuss inconvenient issue of the necessity of exclusive possession as an element of property


The rationale for such a finding started with a consideration of the history of the amendments made to the Crimes Act in 2003.  In crafting a new suite of changes to modernise the criminal law in relation to crimes against rights and property, focus was upon the concept of being “deprived of property” rather than the concept of “things that were capable of being stolen”, for it was that latter concept that underpinned property crimes in the 1961 Crimes Act prior to its amendment in 2003.

When the amending bill was first proposed, there was a specific definition of “property” for the purposes of a new Part 10 relating to crimes against property.  That new definition arose as a result of the 1999 decision of the Court of Appeal in R v Wilkinson[6] where the Court held that the concept of things capable of being stolen did not cover intangible property.

The new definition for the purposes of Part 10 proposed:

Property includes real and personal property, and all things, animate or inanimate, to which any person has any interest or over which any person has any claim; and also includes money, things in action and electricity.

The Supreme Court considered that had this definition remained, digital files would have been included on the basis that they are things in which a person has an interest.

However, when the bill was reported back by the Law and Order Select Committee, it was observed that the definition of “property” and for the purposes of Part 10, differed from the definition of “property” in s 2 and concluded that there should be one definition for the Act as a whole.  The Law and Order Select Committee recommended that the definition be removed from Part 10 and the definition of “property” in s 2 be amended.  The problem is that the definition of “property” in s 2 is not as widely stated as the proposed definition for Part 10.

The Court then went on to consider the nature of a document which had an extended definition for the purposes of Part 10.  Quite clearly from the definition of a document material held in electronic form falls within such a definition and the Court of Appeal reached a similar conclusion in R v Misic[7] which was decided before the extended definition was enacted.

Anderson J, writing for the Court in Misic, said:

… we have no difficulty accepting that the computer program and computer disk in question are each a document for the purposes of s 229A. Essentially, a document is a thing which provides evidence or information or serves as a record. The fact that developments in technology may improve the way in which evidence or information is provided or a record is kept does not change the fundamental purpose of that technology, nor a conceptual appreciation of that function. Legislation must be interpreted with that in mind. …


He went on to say:

It is unarguable that a piece of papyrus containing information, a page of parchment with the same information, a copper plate or a tablet of clay, are all documents. Nor would they be otherwise if the method of notation were English, Morse code, or binary symbols. In every case there is a document because there is a material record of information. This feature, rather than the medium, is definitive.

The Supreme Court then turned to consider the provisions of ss 249-252 Crimes Act dealing with computer crimes and considered, contrary to the view of the Court of Appeal, that the word “property” included in s 249(1)(a) was included for a purpose that was broader than the mere use of credit card details used in conjunction with computer to unlawfully obtain goods.

The Court considered that the broader purpose could be justified by starting with the definition of a computer system which included items such as “software” and “stored data”, which is also referred to in s 250 which deals with damaging or interfering with a computer system.  The Court observed that there was no doubt that Parliament had stored data in mind when those provisions were drafted.  Similarly, “access” is defined to include receiving data from a computer and is received even although it is copied rather than permanently removed.

The Court observed[8]

Given that Parliament contemplated situations where a person copied stored data from a computer, which of the offences might apply where the person taking the data did so without authority?  There are three possibilities – ss 249, 250 and 252.  It is not obvious that s 250 would apply.  If someone simply took a copy of existing data, but did not damage, delete or modify it, could it be said that the person “interfered with” or “impaired” the data?  We rather doubt that it could.  Section 252 could apply.  It creates an offence of intentionally accessing the computer system without authority and provides for a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.  However that offence focuses on unauthorised access implicit, it does not address the issue of dishonest purpose.  Where the access if for dishonest purpose, s 249 applies and there are significantly higher maximum penalties.


The Court then discussed the situation where a person without authority located, copied and dealt with valuable digital files contrary to the interests of the file’s owner.  The inclusion of that conduct is consistent with the features of the legislation to which reference had been made.

Looking at the issue conceptually, of those concepts identified in s 249(1)(a) – property, privilege, service, pecuniary advantage, benefit or valuable consideration – property seemed most apt to capture what was obtained by Mr Dixon as the result of the unauthorised access.  Thus from a conceptual view of what it was that the accused did and what he took, the word “property” seemed the most suitable word to encompass the situation.


The Supreme Court then referred to the fundamental characteristics of property as being something that was capable of being owned and transferred.  It observed that the digital files which were downloaded onto his USB stick and then deleted from the computer upon which they were stored, were a compilation of sequenced images.  This file had an economic value and was capable of being sold.  Although the files remained on the CCTV system, the compilation contained what was valuable in the full files.  The compilation had a material presence.  It altered the physical state of the medium upon which it was stored – the computer disk or USB stick – illustrated by the fact that electronic storage space can be fully utilised.

This aspect of material presence led to a discussion of some American cases where a different approach to computer files as property has been adopted.  The Court referred to the case of South Central Bell Telephone Company v Barthelemy[9] where the physical processes and characteristics of software were examined.  The response to the suggestion that software was merely knowledge or intelligence – perhaps another way of stating information – the Court observed that the software was knowledge recorded in a physical form which had a physical existence and which took up space on a tape, disk or hard drive and made physical things happen which could be perceived by the senses.  The software was ultimately recorded and stored in the physical form on a physical object.

The Court also referred to a number of other American cases, although noted that the US Courts had not been consistent on the point with some holding that software is intangible property. The decision of Ronald Young J in Erris Promotions Limited v CIR[10] where the argument was whether or not software code was tangible property.  The Judge held that it was intangible rather than tangible. The issue of tangibility or intangibility is something of a red herring, having regard to the fact that property can be tangible or intangible according to the definition of property in s.2 of the Crimes Act 1961

In considering the Court of Appeal’s approach in Dixon where it was noted that it was problematic to treat computer data as being analogous to information recorded in physical form, the Supreme Court made two comments.  It firstly observed that the definition of “document” of was broad enough to include electronic documents or files.  In this regard I observe that the word “document” is used probably for two reasons.  The first is the file extension .doc which infers that the file created is a document.  The second is that a word processing program is designed to create a file of information which resembles a paper document but which in reality is quite different, being in electronic form.  We use the word “document” because it is a word with which we are familiar.  Perhaps a better word would be “file” although the definition of “document” is really directed towards the result of a technological process.

In the United States, electronic records and databases had been treated as property capable of being converted although they were intangible.  The case of Thyroff v Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co[11] considered whether the tort of conversion could apply to the misappropriation of electronic records and data.  The Court’s approach was consistent with the overall view of computer or electronic files in the US – that being that there is an economic value to electronic information which should receive the protection of law.

The Court observed that the position in England was different, although the cases in England involved civil aspects of electronic information as property.  It observed that the case of Your Response Limited v Datateam Business Media Limited[12] concluded that it was not possible to exercise a common law possessory liens over an electronic database on the basis that it was not tangible property of a kind capable of forming subject matter of torts that are concerned with interference and with possession.  The Court in Your Response Limited followed the decision of OBG Limited v Allan[13].  What should be observed in those cases, and a matter which the Supreme Court seems to have sidestepped, is that possessory liens and some other torts involving interference with property are premised upon the concept of exclusivity of possession.  In the electronic environment it is capable for a person to obtain a copy of a data file by dishonestly accessing a computer, but by leaving the “original” upon the target computer.  In Dixon’s case, although the digital file that he took was a compilation of a larger CCTV record, nevertheless the original CCTV record remained in the possession of the “owner”.  Thus, two people had possession or control of the same data and the element of exclusivity was absent.

The issue of tangibility or intangibility of an electronic file is, as observed above, resolved by the provisions of s 2 Crimes Act which includes both tangible or intangible property.  The Court then went on to say that what emerged from the brief discussion of the US authorities is that although they differ as to whether software is tangible or intangible, there is general agreement that software is property.  The Court then encompassed data files as property by observing, “There seems no reason to treat data files differently from software in this respect”.

From a technological point of view, software files are operating instructions for a computer.  Data files are raw information which may be processed by a software program.  A .doc file created by the utilisation of the software Microsoft Word is rendered readable by the software.  Software does something within the computer environment.  Data is something that software manipulates.  This is recognised by the separation of “software” from “stored data” in the definition of a computer system in s. 248 of the Crimes Act 1961. The Supreme Court chose not to address this functional difference between software and data.  Although the Court had discussed the nature of software as goods, that merely heightens the distinction between software and data.  There can be no doubt that data can have a value, although it must be associated with some form of processing software to be rendered comprehensible.  But data is not protected by the Consumer Guarantees Act or other consumer protection legislation.

Finally, the Court made some observations about the decision in Watchorn, observing that the digital files that Mr Watchorn obtained were property for the purposes of s 249(1)(a) and that he should have been convicted.

In considering the Supreme Court’s decision, the first thing that should be noted is that the Court went to some pains to state that its definition of “property” was within the context of the legislation and particularly within the context of s 249(1) Crimes Act.  Given that limitation, it could well be argued that its holding that a digital file amounts to property is limited in application.

However, it may well be if the decision is utilised in a broader sense, that there will be certain unintended consequences and one comes to mind.  It involves the person who accesses a computer system dishonestly and without claim of right, and obtains a digital file containing embarrassing or damaging information.  That information, if published, could have significant consequences.  The “hacker” for so he is, puts the information onto a USB stick.  The information is delivered to a third party.  There are no criminal implications in the hacker giving the third party the USB stick.  Property in the USB stick itself and as a medium is validly transferred.  What of the digital file on the USB stick?  The third party is aware that it was obtained dishonestly and by unauthorised access to a computer system.  The question which may need to be asked and answered is whether or not the receipt of the digital file on the USB stick would be sufficient to constitute the offence of receiving by the third party.

What to do?  Clearly the information as property issue needs to be addressed and it may well be that the answer lies in considering adopting the American approach together with clarifying the fact that digital data to exist must be associated with a medium be it a hard drive, a USB drive or stored in the Cloud.  It is this aspect of a digital file that gives it its tangibility albeit limited.

The issue of virtual property remains an open question and must depend upon the nature of the terms and conditions that exist between the provider and the customer.  It may be that legislation will address this problem in the future, recognising that in a paradigm of continuing disruptive change, changes to perception of whether what may fall within the category of intangibles may have value needs to be recognised along with a further recognition that existing remedies under “traditional” fields of law, such as intellectual property and breach of confidence, may be too limited to accord sufficient protection.  The concept of no property in pure information could remain;  information that is not associated with a medium could remain as intangible and without property implications.  But the digital file associated with a medium could have a level of tangibility sufficient to attract the protection of the civil and criminal law.

But wait! There’s more! What proprietary interests does a subscriber have to that piece of virtual real estate in Second Life? And if it is “property” acquired during the course of a relationship, may it attract the attention of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976? What about that “amped up” magic sword that the player uses in Word of Warcraft. The game is not over. In fact, it has only just begun.


[1] [2015] NZSC 147

[2] [2014] 3 NZLR 504

[3] [2014] NZCA 493

[4] Consumer Protection (Definitions of Goods and Services) Bill 2001 (154–2) (select committee report) at 4.

[5] [2008] HCA 56, [2008] CLR 366 at [89]

[6] [1999] 1 NZLR 403 (CA).

[7] [2001] 3 NZLR 1 (CA).

[8] Above n 1 at [36]

[9] 643 So 2d 1240 (Lou 1994).

[10] [2004] 1 NZLR 811 (HC).

[11] 8 NY 3d 283 (NY 2007).

[12] [2014] EWCA Civ 281, [2015] QB 41.

[13] [2007] UKHL 21, [2008] AC 1.

Collisions in the Digital Paradigm VII – Answering the Internet

When the TV News show Campbell Live came to an end there was a tremendous amount of angst that condemned the network and saw this as another nail in the coffin of TV News. I wrote a piece about the demise of the show and the reaction, but didn’t push “Publish” and I still haven’t . I wasn’t satisfied with the piece. It didn’t properly capture what I wanted to say. So I left it. Until now. Some recent reading has caused me to revisit the piece and place it within a larger context.

A few weeks ago I came across a book by Ken Auletta entitled “Googled: The End of the World as We Know It. “ First written in 2009 and updated in 2010, despite the dystopian title, it is an interesting history of the Google within the context of other Silicon Valley Startups – and it doesn’t really live up to its title. Buit it does have some very interesting things to say about news media – especially print media – in a time of paradigmatic and disruptive change.

The second book was by Jon Ronson and is entitled “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” which looks at shaming, what drives it, how the Internet enhances it and what you can do about it – not using legal tools but “reputation management” facilities. The book is an interesting one because some of the situations it describes arise within the context of a “hivemind” that develops with social media applications. That means that often there is not just one bully, but a whole horde of them. And this poses some interesting issues for a legal tool like the Civil Enforcement regime of the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015.

The third book is by Andrew Keen and is entitled “The Internet is Not the Answer”. If I were to critique this piece of work fully I would need as much space as the book itself and would find myself fisking every paragraph, and I am not going to do that. Rather I want to look at some of the themes present in Keen’s book and address them and then turn to the TV News theme about which I wrote before.

Lets look at the title. Is he critical of the Internet?  No he is not. He is critical of the way in which entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the quality of permissionless innovation that allows them to bolt applications on to the backbone that is the Internet. Because the Internet is merely the transport layer. It is content neutral. Keen’s critique is directed to those who have exploited permissionless innovation to develop applications, put them on the Internet and make large amounts of money in doing so.

One of his major criticisms is that there is an illusion that underlies the apparent “free” nature of these applications. Google, Facebook, Instagram, Uber all monetise our presence and by gathering data associated with our use of their services. Keen criticises this as “without our permission”. The way in which advertising also funds the apparent “free” nature of these applications is a striking theme in Auletta’s book and one to which he devotes a considerable amount of print.

But is this an “Internet” problem? Does the seat of the problem lie within the transport layer? Of course it doesn’t. But to characterise the Internet as the problem makes for a catchy title, and who is going to let a technical fact get in the way of a good line.

One of the stories that Ronson recounts in his book about shaming is the treatment handed out to Jonah Lehrer, a successful writer of “self-help” books and a drawcard on the speaking circuit. In one of his books Lehrer attributed a quote to Bob Dylan that to a journalist who was a Dylan fan didn’t ring true. And it wasn’t. The uncovering led to further investigations and discoveries that certain facts didn’t stack up. A similar thing happened to Mike Daisey who, shall we say, embellished or transplanted some facts to enhance his one-man show “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.”

Keen is not immune to a bit of misstatement of fact himself. There can be no doubt that Apple outsourced the manufacturing of its products to a Foxconn factory in Shenzen and that the use of unsafe products and unsafe work practices were appalling. Keen himself interviewed Daisey . In his book he cites that interview but overlooks the fact that Daisey manipulated the facts and he was exposed for doing so by Ira Glass on This American Life on 16 March 2012. Keen does not qualify his reference to Daisey. There is no doubt that other investigations revealed that the Shenzen plant was dreadful. I think Keen could have cited a more reliable source than an exposed fact manipulator who excused himself by suggesting that “we have different worldviews on some of these things”.

Another factual problem occurs when Keen, who was once in the Internet music business himself with a startup called Audiocafe, discusses the demise of the recorded music business which was part of his life when he lived in Soho in the 1980’s. He refers particularly to Kim Dotcom whom he describes as New Zealand based. I’m not sure I can excuse him the hyperbole of describing Dotcom as a criminal when he has not yet been convicted of criminal copyright infringement, but he does make the statement that Dotcom’s Megaupload platform generated the legal revenue to enable him to buy is 15 million pound Downton Abbey-style mansion in New Zealand. Clearly Keen is no connoisseur of architecture because there is little resemblance between the Chrisco mansion in Coatesville and Highclere Castle in Hampshire. But the suggestion that Dotcom purchased the house is completely wrong. He rents it.

The third factual problem with which I have some difficulty – but I am prepared to give Keen the benefit of the doubt – lies in his assertion about the demise of the HMV record retail outlet on Oxford St which he suggests closed down in 2014. I assume he means the one located at 363 Oxford St which in fact closed in 2013 but reopened later that year. But if that store did close in 2014 he is incorrect to suggest that an HMV music store is not on Oxford St because there is one at 150 Oxford St nearby to the Oxford Circus tube station. I know. I was there in September last year and made some purchases.

I guess that the problem that I have with three examples of factual spin, misuse or misinterpretation is – how many other errors are there. One is left with an uncomfortable feeling about the veracity of the book.

But it is not just a question of fact checking. If the title doesn’t give the away author’s perspective the first few pages do, and the further one reads, the clearer it becomes that this is not a true objective analysis but something of an hysterical polemic that harks back to a mythical Golden Age. Keen is very quick to use perjorative language to indicate his disapproval. For example, it is clear that he actively dislikes Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber whom he describes as a “hard-core libertarian” who “paced relentlessly around the Failcon stage as if he’d just strode out of an Ayn Rand novel.” The whole book is critical of what he calls disruptive libertarianism and he even takes John Perry Barlow and the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace as symptomatic of the problem. He says:

“According to Stanford University historian Fred Turner, the Internet borderless idealism, and its ahistorical disdain for hierarchy and authority, especially the tradition role of government, were inherited from the countercultural ideas of Internet pioneers like WELL founder Stewart Brand and the “Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace” author, John Perry Barlow.”

He decries what he calls the “winner take all” approach to the development of Internet startups, is highly critical of the way in which those who, having developed and managed startups to a successful outcome, use the money that they have made through their creativity, entrepreneurship and most of all risk. He overlooks those realities of business. They made it. They took the risk – a risk I might not have been prepared to take in similar circumstances. Surely they can spend it as they wish. For myself, I am unfamiliar with a sense of envy of a person who is better off that I am, nor do I resent them for it, nor seek to acquire that wealth or part of it by some form of “Robin Hood” wealth redistribution process.

Keen uses the demise of Rochester, New York and its once prime employer Kodak as a metaphor for the demise of traditional manufacturing and employment models and lays much of the blame at the feet of on-line startups like Instagram. According to Keen, Kevin Systrom, who had a deep interest in photography, thought about whether there could be an application that enabled users to manipulate photos by the application of filters to give the pictures a warm fuzzy glow or a sepia tinge.

“He spent the rest of the day lying on a hammock, a bottle of Modelo beer sweating by his side, as he typed away on his laptop researching and designing the first Instagram filter.

And so Instagram and its photos – what Systrom, shamelessly appropriating Kodack’s phrase, calls “Instagram moments – were born”

And so Systrom became what Keen prejoratively describes as “a star of the winner takes all economy.”

There are two major themes that underlie Keen’s book. One is that once upon a time – which is how all good fairy stories start – there was a “good time” when everyone was doing well, people were socially responsible, and where people made and sold tangible products like records and clothes and other things. In this golden age there were no great disparities between rich and poor, there was a certain egalitarianism and a relatively even distribution of wealth. He cites the music industry and photography as examples. Indeed when he speaks of Kodak his nostalgic yearning hearkens back to Kodachrome and the song by Paul Simon, but even before the digital era Kodachrome was falling away in the face of colour prints.

The decline of Kodak is probably far too complex to go into here, and I do not think that it was as simple as Keen would like to imagine. In a nutshell, Kodak did not forsee the way in which the digital camera would supplant film. And this is very strange because Kodak in fact invented the first digital camera. But it did not change its business model and by the time it realised what was happening, it was too late.

Keen expresses not concern but loathing for what he describes as the privileged few who are beginning to isolate and cocoon themselves and their communities in unusual buildings and workspaces and who have used their economic power to exclude others from neighbourhoods or beaches. Given his disparagement of the works of Ayn Rand I am surprised he didn’t draw the comparison with John Galt’s impenetrable and hidden mountain community in Atlas Shrugged.

The second theme lies in the solutions Keen proposes. As I have said the book is a polemic but it is not just directed towards the development of Internet based business models like Google, Uber, Instagram, Facebook and the like. Rather it is directed at free enterprise capitalism, successful entrepreneurship and innovation. By the time I was three-quarters of the way through the book I thought I was reading about America in the time of the Rail Barons, Leland Stanford and J.P. Morgan or the oil tycoons like Getty and Rockefeller and the steel magnates like Andrew Carnegie. Indeed, Keen refers to the lessons of history and these very examples. And the solution he poses?  Let the government do something about it. Government approaches are already happening, he says, in the EU with the development of the Right to be Forgotten and examining some of the consequences behind Uber and AirBnB although to be fair I hardly think that a person’s failure to pay tax on the income from a rented room can be laid at the feet of AirBnB.

The answer, he says, is to use the law and regulation to force the Internet out of its prolonged adolescence. He cites examples like the ECHR decision on the responsibility of website owners to police users’ comments, revenge porn laws in England and California and Piketty’s call for a global tax on plutocrats like Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page. He then goes on to suggest that there are other methods available that do not involve government – in the form of self-regulatory steps like the decision by credit card companies to work with the Police to stop payment to websites that distribute stolen content as well as steps to cut off the flow of advertising revenue to websites profiting from illegal content. No wonder he doesn’t like Ayn Rand. His proposals are the stuff of a libertarian nightmare.

The funny thing is that Keen believes that external controls on the Internet will not undermine innovation, but suggests that future innovation will require partnering with government in areas such as education and healthcare. But the one of the strengths of the digital paradigm has been the quality of permissionless innovation. You don’t need regulatory approval to bolt an application on to the Internet and see if it attracts an audience. Once regulators step in, red tape inevitably follows.

The final theme that Keen develops, and one that he notes has been lacking since Netscape burst on to the scene as the first of many subsequent “killer apps”, is that of social responsibility – another issue with which he runs head to head with the libertarians. The digital elite has to become accountable for the most traumatic socioeconomic disruption since the industrial revolution. Really? That sounds very much like Dr Floyd Ferris, Dr Robert Stadler and Wesley Mouch from Atlas Shrugged.

I have written elsewhere about the issue of paradigm shifts especially in the area of communications technologies but the theory applies in other fields. Disruption is a fact of life. All new technologies have a disruptive effect. Generally their introduction has been a little more gradual than the pace of change that the digital paradigm allows. Who could have forseen urban sprawl, enabled by the motorcar, in the days when cars were “horseless carriages.” What Keen, and to an extent Nicholas Carr who is also something of an Internet dystopianist, fail to understand is the meaning of a quote that he frequently cites. We shape our buildings and thereafter our buildings shape us. Marshall McLuhan modified it a bit – we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us. What Keen wants is for the law to run interference on the way that either tools are shaped or the way in which they are going to shape us. Keen also quotes the famous “the medium is the message” but completely fails to undestand what it means – but I won’t go into that here.

I don’t have a quibble with Keen’s values, although they may be based to a large extent on nostalgia. He is quite entitled to hold them, and good luck to him. What I do quibble with is his unwillingness to understand that paradigmatic change is just that. The change will be revolutionary and although it won’t turn the whole world or society upside down it will change it significantly and the change will be dramatic and at times uncomfortable. Keen may seek comfort in his older past and the communitarian values that were formed within the technological context of those times. But change is inevitable and with those changes are going to come changes in behaviours and ultimately in values that underpin our society.

And this brings me to our understanding of broadcasting and TV news and a reflection of attitudes which, while not so expressed with such vitriol as those of Andrew Keen, nevertheless indicate a lack of understanding of paradigmatic change.

An interesting article appeared in the Sunday Star Times on 7 June 2015 entitled “The War on Seriousness” and posed the question “Was the death of Campbell Live the last nail in the coffin of prime time current affairs TV? Or are we on the brink of brave new ways of telling the stories that matter?” The article is an interesting if somewhat nostalgic piece, longing for the heyday or what it calls “serious” television news which has given way to “fluff over substance” observing  “for a decade the internet has been chewing away at the foundations, gobbling up the advertising revenues that sustain New Zealand’s commercial media, and now the foundations seem to be crumbling. ” As Auletta points out, advertising on the Internet is cheaper than on primetime and it can be more targetted too.

The article seems to have ignored the fact first of the plethora of new communications systems and secondly that public expectations of content have changed as a result of these media changes. It may well be that serious journalism is suffering as a result of this, but serious journalism developed in an entirely different paradigm – that of print – and as new methods of communication of information came along – broadcast radio and radio-with-pictures (TV) so too did journalism adapt.

The common feature between newspapers, radio and TV is that they are based on a monolithic one-to-many distribution system that is seriously challenged by the nature of the distributed many-to-many model that underlies the Internet. Even although TV has an impact that cannot be matched by other mainstream media like radio or newspapers I wonder if it is going a bit far to say that it is unmatched by the information distribution system enabled by the Internet. The immediacy in the living room, the ability to see the “whites of the eyes” (a phrase used by Justice Harrison in Aeromotive v Page when commenting on the value of face-to-face cross-examination) is easily available in content other than a main stream TV broadcast and although it is suggested by Paula Penfold of TV3 that TV is accessible, especially free-to-air, especially in primetime, especially on a major channel, such a statement relies on the assumption that in the twenty-first century people actually want to engage with appointment based news transmissions when other methods of acquiring news content at a time that is convenient are available. As Lord Neuberger said when announcing the UK Supreme Court “video on demand” service on 5 May 2015  “Now justice can be seen to be done at a time which suits you.”The same could apply to the consumption of news content.

Peter Thompson, a lecturer in media studies at Victoria University, is quoted in the article as saying:

“There’s a social contract between the state and the public, and it needs to be mediated. We need a fourth estate that holds these people to account. If the news media aren’t able to reflect the society that we live in such that we can identify our issues, moral concerns, political policies, economic policies, we’re impoverished.”

That may be so with a State broadcaster. But I wonder if the proposition overlooks the nature of commercial television, particularly if the channel is other than publicly owned. Thompson goes on to suggest that the government consider a levy on commercial broadcasters (a sort of “polluter pays” principle), a levy on telecom services such as cell phone and broadband fees, a good old-fashioned public licence fee, or other more complex overseas revenue models. Back to the future with a vengeance!! When all else fails bring in the law and the regulators. Andrew Keen would definitely approve.

Some of us remember the bad old days of compulsory licence fees if one owned a television. Given the dire nature of much of the content on free-to-air TV one wonders whether such a fee would be value for money. Perhaps an argument could be mounted that the state has an obligation to fund a free and independent news service under s. 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act although such an argument might be a bit of a stretch.

I think the problem seems to be how the Fourth Estate should undertake promulgation of information in the public interest in a new paradigm. To mourn the passage of lack of depth in current affairs and the like is to engage in an unhelpful, rear view mirror exercise in nostalgia. There is no entitlement by mainstream news media to a particular model of news dissemination but complaints by media pundits would suggest that it is so. Rather, news media should look for new opportunities that new communications technologies present. There can be no place for sclerotic communications systems in the face of continuing dynamic, disruptive and transformative change. One should recall (and I don’t want to sound like a determinist but it is hard not to) in this time of revolution and evolution of communications systems, the comment of the Borg –  “resistance is futile”.

The Ghost of Copyright Past – Collisions in the Digital Paradigm V

It is not too often that I have a personal experience of a Collision in the Digital Paradigm where the law becomes head to head with technological reality, but the following post is inspired by a recent occurrence.

When we were in London in late 2014 we saw a number of shows. We were spoilt for choice but one we wanted to see – and had missed on earlier occasions – was “Jersey Boys”, the musical about the Four Seasons. The experience in London was a good one. We walked from where we were staying at the East India Club to the heart of Piccadilly, had a quick meal and then on to the show. It was great – well staged, well acted, very slick and professional as one would expect. And then there was the music. That was always great but there is something extra special about hearing Sixties music with the sound technology that is available today. Other experiences include the music of the Beatles, remixed and remastered for the Cirque du Soleil show “Love” and the music of Elvis again for Cirque du Soleil’s “Viva Elvis”.  Those opening chords of “Jailhouse Rock” never sounded better. Both shows, incidentally, were at Las Vegas. But back to “Jersey Boys”. I missed the movie was well, so I was delighted to see that it was available on Bluray and DVD.

Time for a rewind. I have rather eclectic tastes in movies and have taken advantage of the DVD revolution (which would never have happened had the movie companies not been forced into the new market model of VHS [and subsequently DVD) as a result of format shifting and the case of Sony Corp of America v Universal City Studios 464 US 417 (1984)) to build up a collection. I encountered early problems with region coding. Many of the movies I wanted were not available in our Region 4 part of the world. It was necessary to obtain a region free DVD player or a software workaround for the DVD player on my computer to view DVDs sourced from Region 1 or 2 outlets. I had some concerns. The state of the law under our s.226 of the Copyright Act 1994 seemed to be ambivalent about circumventing technological protection measures like region coding where there were no infringement implications and the copy of the DVD had been legitimately acquired. There was a frisson of concern when the decision in Sony Computer Entertainment v Ball [2004] EWHC 1738 (Ch) was released with the suggestion in that case that content owners could set their own terms and conditions of sale of their product in addition to the statutory scheme of copyright – essentially allowing for copyright by contract. But as long as there was no copying there was no question of infringement.

With the passage of time more and more region-free DVD players became available and it seemed that distributor based market segmentation and regionalised markets were on the way out. Then along came Bluray and an even more rigorous form of region coding was instituted. Bluray players were not region free. And this was the position for a while. It was about 2102 that I heard of a region free Bluray player that was available in New Zealand, but it was pretty expensive. On the other hand it had a whole lot a features that made it very attractive. In addition, there were models available for a fraction of the cost of the NZ product but these could not be shipped to addresses outside the US. Fortunately NZ Post with its wonderful Youshop service with the provision of a US mailing address came to the rescue so welcome region free Bluray and DVD player with all sorts of additional goodies like 3D. The Bluray market became open slather.

And what about those copyright concerns. As a result of the 2008 amendments to the Copyright Act the definition of a technological protection measure does not include a device that controls access to a work for non-infringing purposes (for example, it does not include a process, treatment, mechanism, device, or system to the extent that it controls geographic market segmentation by preventing the playback in New Zealand of a non-infringing copy of a work) – see section 226 Copyright Act 1994. So circumventing access control mechanisms with  geographic implications – like region coding – is not viewed as any form of prohibited or infringing conduct. Thus, to circumvent a Region 1 (or A on Bluray) legitimately acquired disc to allow it to be viewed had no unlawful elements to it.

So back to the “Jersey Boys”. Having missed the movie and having enjoyed the stage show I purchased a Bluray version of the movie from Amazon. I addition to enjoying the show I was interested to see how Clint Eastwood made the transition from stage to screen. He is a fine director with some great credits. And the Bluray arrived. And inside was a little leaflet allowing me to add the movie to a Digital HD collection with Ultraviolet. This service, associated with an online retailer like Flixter enables access to movies in the collection on a number of devices. An advantage is that if one has a device like Chromecast a movie can be streamed via a computer or laptop and viewed on a TV screen. Great service and Chromecast is a great technology.

There is the leaflet with the code so that I can add “Jersey Boys” to my collection. I go to the Flixter site and enter the code, only to receive the message that the code is not valid for my region or territory. Once again it seems that region coding and market segmentation has hit the streaming video market. I am aware that this is a characteristic  or on-line content. Hulu and Netflix are available only to certain defined and regionally segmented IP addresses but it seemed to me that a legitimately acquired Bluray – that incidentally has NO region coding that was associated with an Ultraviolet code SHOULD be available world wide. I checked the fine print. Although I had obtained the copy from Amazon, there was a bold notice that the DVD was not for sale outside the USA or Canada. However, there was nothing on the Ultraviolet slip inside the case that suggested that the code was only valid for use inside the US or Canada.

I have always had difficulty with the idea of market segmentation. I have never supported the concept that content purchased from a particular geographical market could only be consumed within that geographical area. After all, a paperback book purchased in the US does not become “unreadable” as the plane leaves LAX. Why should DVDs or Blurays or Digital content be any different. The Internet has made markets global. The vendor from a suburb in Auckland who does business via the Web has a worldwide market – not just a local one. Similarly with those who sell and distribute on-line content. But the problem is that those most resistant to change in the Digital Paradigm are those who can benefit the most from it.

Why do I say that? Remember the case to which I referred earlier – Sony v Universal City Studios. That was a case where Sony, the developer of the Betamax videorecorder, sought relief from the US Supreme Court against the movie studios who sought to have the videorecorder banned because it was used for copyright infringement. Not so, held the USSC. There were substantial non-infringing uses, among them the concept of time shifting where one might record a show for viewing at a later time without engaging in infringement. The movie companies retired in disorder and then realised that the technology that they had tried to shut down could be used as an alternative means of movie distribution. In addition it meant that the back catalogue of the studios could be redistributed. This business model would have been lost if the Betamax case had been resolved in their favour. So the content distrbutors were – and to a degree still are – dragged kicking and screaming into the new Paradigm. DVD technology then replaced the videocasette and Bluray and streaming content will replace the DVD. But geographic segmentation remains the same – the ghost of copyright past.

When DVDs and digital content were in their early days, technological protection measures to guard against the wholesale copying of content were proposed. As Charles Clark said “the answer to the machine is in the machine”. In the same way there are work arounds to geographical restrictions – not only for region coded DVDs but also for streaming content. The legitimacy of such work arounds depends very much upon local law and the terms and conditions applicable to the product purchased.

It is not necessary to purchase the DVD or Bluray product to obtain the Ultra codes to add downloadable content to one’s library. Ultra codes are available for sale that allow this to be done. Once again the purchase of the code means that there are no infringement implications. So how does one avoid the “market segmentation” implications. As I say this depends on local law, but assuming that local law does not prohibit such workarounds, the use of a browser based anonymisation solution is probably the easiest and most user friendly way. Anonymox  is available both for Firefox and Chrome. The Firefox plugin works more effectively than the Chrome one, not the least because it showed the IP number and geographical location in the browser bar. But I emphasise, such a solution depends upon local law. It is not an offence in New Zealand to circumvent a TPM and a TPM does not include a device in place for market segmentation where the product has been legitimately acquired (although there may be contract implications). It is an offence under US law to circumvent a TPM. So one must be careful to comply with the law.

It is unfortunate that content owners are slow to recognise the new opportunities provided by the Digital Paradigm. It is unfortunate that content has not, until recently, been made available world-wide. This belated recognition now means that popular TV shows in the US are available within 24 hours of broadcast in the US – shows like “The Walking Dead”, “Arrow” “The Blacklist” and “Game of Thrones” come to mind. And what drove this? Piracy and content sharing. The content owners were reactive rather than proactive. And one can only wonder how long it will be before content owners wake up to the global market and get rid of this ridiculous hangover of region coding and market segmentation. It may have been understandable before the Internet Revolution. It has little if any relevance now.

But perhaps content owners prefer to adopt the well-known quote from Jean-Baptist Alphonse Karr – “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”