ISPs worldwide are celebrating a court case in Australia which said Internet providers cannot be held liable for their customers’ actions.
A group of 34 movie companies, including Australian branches of Hollywood studios Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, claimed Australia’s third-largest Internet provider, iiNet, breached their film copyrights by failing to stop users from illegally downloading files. The plaintiffs claimed that tens of thousands of copyright violations occurred in this manner.
But Federal Court Justice Dennis Cowdroy ruled that while iiNet knew its users violated copyrights, that did not mean the provider was authorising those breaches and so it could not be held accountable for them. He said iiNet did not have the power to stop illegal downloads as the BitTorrent system, the file sharing application used to download large files (eg: music and video), could not be controlled by ISPs.
Neil Gane, the executive director of the industry group participating in the Australian lawsuit, said the outcome was disappointing and based on a technical interpretation of how infringements occur.
Jamie Cairns, President of the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPANZ), told NetGuide it was a good result, although he expected the ruling would be appealed.
“The judge’s comments reflected the real world attitude to this situation, and it was pleasing to hear a verdict that fundamentally understood the neutrality of the ISP in this situation,” Cairns said.
“Additionally, it is also nice to see that their (iiNet’s) share price has been lifted, and investor confidence in the wider ISP market is being restored.”
ISPs in New Zealand have been cooperating with the government in drawing up Section 92A of the Copyright Act, which will require disconnection for repeat copyright infringements when it becomes law later this year. Their cooperation is partly aimed at avoiding such lawsuits as the one in Australia.
The case has global implications for the entertainment and Internet industries, as copyright holders have been trying to make ISPs liable for their customers’ actions as a way to fight online piracy. ISPs say policing the Internet is not their responsibility. (*See pg 9 for ominous copyright news.)