Internet pirates may be cut off

2010-02-01 07:13

Sydney - Australian internet rights groups fear a piracy court case could force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to become "copyright cops" and cut web access to customers who make illegal downloads.

The Federal Court is on Thursday expected to hand down its judgement in the case, which has pitted Hollywood and Australian film and television producers against Australia's third-largest Internet provider iiNet.

The entertainment companies, which include Village Roadshow, Paramount Pictures Australia and Twentieth Century Fox International, say iiNet has not done enough to stop its customers illegally sharing movies on the net.

But iiNet argues it has never encouraged or authorised the illegal sharing or downloading of files in breach of copyright laws and specifically warned its users against doing so.

Electronic Frontiers Australia, which aims to protect the civil liberties of internet users, said the case goes further than any other similar case seen around the world in holding an ISP responsible for a customer's illegal activities.

"It doesn't seem to be a paradigm that we are used to seeing in the rest of offline life," spokesperson Geordie Guy told AFP.

"We've never seen a company which supplies electricity held responsible for supplying electricity to a house which grows illicit drugs, for example."

94 000 cases

The case hinges on more than 94 000 alleged infringements on the iiNet network over 59 weeks from June 2008, involving titles such as Batman Begins and Dark Knight.

The consortium of 34 Australian and US media content providers sent iiNet notifications of the infringements but say nothing was done about them.

The Australian Digital Alliance (ADA), which is pushing for intellectual property law reform, fears if iiNet loses it could set a precedent leaving ISPs no choice but to terminate the access of internet users accused of making illegal downloads without each case coming to court.

The term intellectual property refers to areas such as copyright, designs, and patents, confidential information and trademarks.

"The ADA believes that access to essential services, such as the internet, should not be terminated without the fundamental protection of independent judicial oversight," the alliance's Matt Dawes told AFP.

Dawes said ISPs were under mounting pressure to regulate the activities of those who subscribe to their internet services.

"The strategy of compelling ISPs to act as 'copyright cops' enforcing private rights is a last-ditch response to the difficulties of preventing file-sharing," he said.

BitTorrent websites were hard to shut down while individual file-sharers were too numerous to sue, added Dawes.

BitTorrent is a technology that allows online users to share parts of a large file such as a film or song over the Internet. The parts are then stitched together on the end user's computer to create a complete file.

Half of traffic 'illegal'

iiNet CEO Michael Malone agreed in court that half or more than half of traffic by volume across the company's network was BitTorrent traffic, and that the technology was frequently used to illegally download movies and TV shows.

"Placing responsibility for reducing file-sharing on ISPs is inappropriate because it will shift the cost of copyright enforcement on to customers and has great potential for abuse without proper supervision," Dawes said.

Whatever the court decides, there was likely to be legislative action in Australia to clarify how ISPs should implement a policy to terminate repeat copyright offenders, Dawes said.

David Crafti, who heads the recently formed Pirate Party Australia, which wants to see intellectual property law reform, says the case could open up issues of privacy if ISPs were essentially expected to spy on their customers.

"In order to enforce copyright laws strictly, the problem is that nowadays what's actually required is invasions of privacy which are actually anathema to a free society," he told AFP.

Crafti said lawmakers had been slow to respond to the enormous changes brought about by the internet and needed to recognise there was currently no way to prevent illegal downloading without taking draconian measures.

"The way I see it, the internet is a utility. It should be on tap like water. And as soon as you start limiting that, you are limiting the freedom of your society," he said.

  • Frankc - 2010-02-01 08:05

    It would be like take Ford or Toyota to court because one of their vehicles was used in a robbery. Surely the focus should be on the USER that download illegal files and not the ISP that merely provide INTERNET access. As ISP myself I would shut down a client with a illegal website if it was reported or came to our attention yes but I am not going to SPY on users because that's illegal by itself.

  • Occasional Pirate - 2010-02-01 09:13

    Hmmm ... good luck to them (the entertainment companies). This is a lot like trying to nail jelly to the wall. No matter what they try, there is another route by which people will share whatever they fancy. Yes, I am a pirate. More specifically, I've pulled many copies of movies ... discarded the ones I do not like. And (SHOCK! HORROR!) I have actually bought copies of the ones I LIKED!

    Perhaps the entertainment Mafia need to read "Freakonomics" and perhaps start understanding that the allegedly causal relationship between a decline in revenue and Internet piracy is just that - an allegation. This forum is too short for a full dissertation on the idea, but the reasons for revenues dipping are far more diverse than simple piracy.

    But, go ahead boys & girls, people will share, come what may.

    There are manifold arguments here ... short version is that they have not a snowball's hope in hell of stopping it. Perhaps fighting it with dramatically lower prices on DVDs, CDs and so on ... may work. Who knows?

    Anyway, actual work to do now!

  • rurapente - 2010-02-01 09:25

    Getting into a debate over what is illegal or not, is a tedious process. People record from their TV's to the VCR and DVD-R appliances too. But Tv licenses are broadcast-only. So are we going to shutdown Sony, LG, Samsung, Phillips and co too??

    The fact is also, that once you implement systems to monitor and intervene in people's privacy - it doesnt have to stop there.

    whats next? Someone sends an email joke about a race or other stereotype and they'll have their internet cut off too? Makes you wonder whether governments view the internet as something to promote freedom, or to promote control.

  • bob - 2010-02-01 09:39

    a few years ago someone suggested that we place advertisments small windows of adverts embed it into the show/sitcom surely then the more downloads the more exposure,why even charge for the show why not change the model.

  • freespeech - 2010-02-01 13:25

    The entertainment companies will never win.
    I predict encrypted bittorrent will be on its way very soon....

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