Studios challenge Australia Internet piracy ruling

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — U.S. and Australian movie and television studios on Wednesday challenged a landmark court ruling in Australia that an Internet service provider cannot be held accountable for illegal video downloads by its customers.

The studios want Internet providers to be punished if they don’t take “reasonable steps” to stop customers from downloading free copies of pirated movies, which costs the studios millions in profits. Without that legal risk, the ISPs have less reason to police their own network for potential copyright infringement.

Internet Piracy

Pic: AP.

The full bench of the Federal Court in February upheld a judge’s ruling that Australia’s third-largest Internet provider, iiNet Ltd., had not authorized the copyright infringements of customers who downloaded thousands of movies via the Internet’s leading file-sharing protocol, BitTorrent.

That judge, Justice Dennis Cowdroy, had said the case was the first time a court had ruled on the question of whether an ISP should be liable for copyright violations by its users.

Tony Bannon, a lawyer for a group of 34 movie companies including Australian branches of Hollywood studios Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, told five High Court judges on Wednesday that iiNet had authorized the copyright violations of its customers by failing to take reasonable steps to prevent it.

Bannon told the court that authorizing someone to infringe copyright was in itself an infringement of copyright.

“If they don’t take reasonable steps, … then they run the risk of being an authorizer,” Bannon said.

The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, representing copyright holders, in 2008 began sending iiNet infringement notices detailing the unauthorised downloads and exchanges peer-to-peer. The federation requested that iiNet take action to prevent further infringements, but iiNet declined.

IiNet’s agreement with customers entitles it to cancel an account holder’s Internet access if that account holder infringes copyright.

But iiNet has advised its customers that no account would be cancelled unless a court determined an infringement.

If the High Court rules that iiNet is liable, Bannon said the studios will apply for unspecified damages and injuctions against iiNet.

But Bannon said wording an injunction to specify what behavior of iiNet should be stopped would “require extreme attention and ingenuity and may not be possible at all.”

The hearing will continue Thursday.