Internet users protest copyright crackdown at Wellington Parliament

Internet users protest copyright crackdown at Wellington Parliament Wellington - Internet users staged a protest outside the New Zealand Parliament Thursday to draw attention to an amendment to the country's copyright laws due to come into effect next week.

The change instructs internet-service providers to block online access to anyone accused of repeatedly flouting copyright regulations by illegally downloading films and music whether they have been convicted or not.

British actor Stephen Fry voiced his opposition to the amendment on a recent visit to New Zealand, blacking out his photo avatar on the social networking site Twitter and changing his biography to read: "I'm blacked out: Stand up against Guilt Upon Accusation for New Zealand."

Campaigners who have put blacked-out boxes on other social networking websites - including Facebook, My Space and Bebo - held plain black placards and some had black tape over their mouths during their protest at Parliament.

Peter Dunne, minister of revenue in the minority centre-right government and leader of the United Future party, said the change was a threat to freedom of speech, and accepted an online petition with more than 10,000 signatures opposing it.

News reports said the law change - introduced by the former Labour government, which was defeated in November's election, and due to come into effect on February 28 - was opposed by major internet-service providers.

Communications and Information Technology Minister Steven Joyce acknowledged concerns about the law's implementation but stopped short of saying it would be reviewed, the Stuff news website reported.

"We will keep a close eye on how the new law works in practice," Joyce said. "We are prepared to look at further changes if they prove necessary." (dpa)

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