iiNet cleared over video piracy charges

Australia’s third largest internet service provider was today cleared of any wrong doing in relation to customers who illegally download movies and television shows.

iiNet was taken to court by a group of large Hollywood studies and television networks because a number of their customers were found to be downloading films and TV shows using file sharing websites. 

The studios claimed that this was in breach of copyright and that iiNet was responsible for this illegal activity.

But in a landmark decision today the Federal Court found in favour of the internet provider, with Judge Dennis Cowdroy saying that iiNet was not liable for the behavior of its customers.

This decision sets a legal precedent on how much internet service providers (ISPs) are required to monitor the online habits of their customers, and their responsibility to prevent illegal activity. While the evidence showed that iiNet had knowledge of the activity of their customers and did not act to stop copyright infringements, Justice Cowdroy ruled that iiNet has done nothing more than provide an internet service to its users.

"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," Justice Cowdroy said.

Justice Cowdroy said that it was only by using BitTorrents and other peer-to-peer systems that the copyright infringements were occurring, and there was nothing that iiNet could do about customers accessing these systems.

He additionally said that this kind of technology could be used for legitimate purposes. BitTorrents and other peer-to-peer program allow people to share files with each other.

This case was the first trial of its kind to proceed to hearing and judgement and was the first Australian trial followed on Twitter. When the verdict was announced words of joy were Tweeted from all over the world. In a press conference, the co-founder of iiNet Micheal Malone declared the decision "a sweet victory for common sense and the law".

The suit against iiNet was first filed in November 2008 by the coalition of media companies that included some of Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, Village Roadshow, Universal Pictures and the Seven Network. This group was joined by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT).
They claimed iiNet were liable for allowing copyright infringements on its network because the Perth based ISP did not warn or reprimand offending customers even when they were notified of the infringements by the studios.

iiNet argued that it was not required by law to respond to “mere allegations” of copyright infringement and that customers were innocent until proven guilty.

The ISP also stated that they did have a policy to deal with repeat offenders and claimed that the case was like suing the electricity company for things people do with their electricity.

In his decision today Judge Cowdroy said that when using BitTorrent websites, iiNet customers were only making one copy of particular material, and that the infringements were “significantly less” than that which had been alleged by AFACT. 

In his decision, Cowdroy dismissed the studios’ claim and demanded that they pay iiNet’s legal costs.