Australian Court Upholds Internet Piracy Ruling
April 21, 2012

Australian Court Upholds Internet Piracy Ruling

Brett Smith for

An Australian federal court ruling has provided cover for internet service providers (ISP) hoping to avoid being held responsible for copyright violations committed by their customers.

In the first such case to reach any country´s highest court, a group of Australian and international entertainment studios, including Disney and Warner Bros, alleged that the Australian ISP iiNet allowed for the copyright infringement on their properties through illegal downloads by BitTorrent programs.

This week´s ruling backs up a 2010 decision on the case by a lower Australian court that found iiNet did not directly authorize the downloading of pirated materials.

A group of 34 entertainment industry companies called the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) appealed the decision on the basis it set a precedent that would cost them billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Australia´s High Court unanimously struck down that appeal on Friday.

"The High Court held that the respondent, an internet service provider (ISP), had not authorized the infringement by its customers of the appellants' copyright in commercially released films and television programs," the court stated.

"Rather, the extent of iiNet's power to prevent its customers from infringing... copyright was limited to an indirect power to terminate its contractual relationship with its customers."

AFACT managing director Neil Gane said the decisions represent the government´s antiquated copyright policies that are being flaunted to the detriment of his organization´s members.

"Both judgments in this case recognize that copyright law is no longer equipped to deal with the rate of technological change we have seen since the law of authorization was last tested," he told the AFP news agency.

iiNet chief executive Michael Malone suggested that the best way for the film industry to protect copyright was to provide their products in a widely accessible and more immediate manner citing strong evidence that content partnerships between ISPs and copyright holders was the best way to solve the problem of content piracy.

"Increasing the availability of licensed digital content is the best, most practical approach to meet consumer demand and protect copyright," Malone told AFP's Martin Parry.

"We have consistently said we are eager to work with the studios to make their very desirable material legitimately available to a waiting customer base and that offer remains the same today."

Malone could be referring to the success of iTunes, which is responsible for millions of dollars worth of music sales. At the very least, Malone´s suggestion would cost the parties involved far less money than battling piracy through litigation or lobbying for legislation. It is believed that litigating this case alone has cost over $12 million in legal fees.

Copyright holders were undoubtedly rooting for the Australian court to set a precedent that might aid them in their battle against illegal downloading. iiNet was potentially facing financial damages for providing the means to acquire hundreds of thousands of pirated movies and shows. The illegal download activity of iiNet subscribers was tracked by AFACT investigators in preparation for this law suit.

Gane said that the film and television industry was pursuing other means for battling copyright infringement, including targeting the software developers behind BitTorrent technology.