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Australian ISP Cleared of Copyright Infringement Charges

Posted: 04th Feb, 2010 By: MarkJ
isp p2p pirateA group of 34 movie production companies, including Universal Pictures, Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox, have lost their court case of Copyright Infringement against Australian ISP iiNet. The provider was accused of being directly responsible for the actions of its customers, some of which were abusing BitTorrent (P2P) file sharing services to download illegal films.

The group believed that iiNet itself should be held accountable because it was aware that such activity took place on its network. However Justice Dennis Cowdroy ruled that, even though iiNet had knowledge of the activity and did not act to stop it, the ISP itself was a legitimate communication facility that had no control over the P2P system or the actions of its users.

Federal Court Justice, Dennis Cowdroy, said:

"iiNet is not responsible if an iiNet user uses that system to bring about copyright infringement. The law recognises no positive obligation on any person to protect the copyright of another. I find that the mere provision of access to the internet is not the 'means' of infringement. If the ISPs become responsible for the acts of their customers, essentially they become this giant and very cheap mechanism for anyone with any sort of legal claim."

iiNet successfully argued that the law protected it (i.e. ISPs are mere conduits and not publishers of Internet content), adding that ISPs were not required to act on "allegations" of copyright infringement; customers are innocent until proven guilty. iiNet likened the situation to an electricity company being sued for anything bad that people might do with electricity.

In the end common sense prevailed, although it would be unwise to think that what happens in Australia could be mirrored in the UK; laws do differ and many providers over here already take some degree of action upon receiving an infringement notice from Rights Holders, though technically speaking they are not yet under any obligation to do that.

Indeed most major UK ISPs agree with the basic principal of sending warning letters to their customers, with much of the remaining debate being centred around who pays for it and what to do as a punishment for repeat offenders. Few, outside of government circles and rights holders, believe that disconnecting customers from their ISP is a good idea.
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