Parallel importing is incredibly important to New Zealanders. As an isolated nation and a small consumer market, we’re often at the expensive end of pricing. Parallel importing provides genuine price and product competition – and companies like The Warehouse have made a business out of it. Exclusive-importing deals would see prices rise on anything from books to shoes.

In 1998 the laws around parallel importing were relaxed and parallel-imported goods were allowed into New Zealand. What that means is copyrighted goods lawfully made overseas (not counterfeited or pirated) may be imported without the consent of the New Zealand copyright owner or licensee.

Movie and TV restrictions

But in 2003, to restrict the importation of films, the Labour-led government changed the law. This restriction is still in place. It stops films from being parallel imported until nine months after their release (essentially stopping DVDs from arriving before the film is released in cinemas here).

Speaking in Parliament about the restrictions, John Key (now Prime Minister but then part of the Opposition) said: "Under this system, choice will diminish. Prices will go up and product availability to the consumers of New Zealand will go down." He went on to argue: "[The public] want to enjoy a movie that is current and not wait to see it in nine months’ time, when it has gone from being fashionable to unfashionable. They are not interested in watching a movie that has already been bagged by movie critics on radio stations and television."

He was right. The law was changed and still stands: with the nine-month delay in place, we now have frustrated consumers demanding to see films and TV shows as soon as they air overseas. The world is a smaller place and, as John Key said, by the time a film or show reaches New Zealand the ending has often been revealed online. Interestingly TV3 and FOUR have partly responded to customer demand through their "fast" shows that play the same week as in the US.

Although we now have many services – such as iTunes, Spotify and Rdio – that allow cheap or even free ways to legally listen to music, there are few such services for movies and almost none for TV. Adding further barriers to the digital release of these products is not the way to the future.

Stifling innovation

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, gave a public address in Wellington earlier this year. He advocates an open internet, free from governmental controls: "If companies or governments get to control the internet, they destroy it as the foundation for the way individual people find out about the world". He was speaking about extra restrictions stifling innovation: "There’s someone out there who next week is going to produce something you could never imagine. And that’s not about technology, that’s humanity."

While the TPP-induced change to our parallel-importation laws wouldn't make it illegal for you to buy an item overseas and bring it to New Zealand, it could affect the person selling it to you. Many of the sellers on Trade Me are parallel importers; under the TPP these sellers are likely to be out of business. And there may be more instances of the “Adidas rugby jersey” issue, where a major company can set the prices of items being sold to re-sellers.

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