Australian Court Finds ISP Not Responsible for Users’ Illegal Downloads

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Australia’s Federal Court in Sydney has ruled that Internet service provider iiNet is not responsible for illegal downloading activity carried out by its users. The ISP had been sued by an industry groups that includes Australian divisions of many of Hollywood’s biggest studios, including Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Disney, Paramount, Sony, and Warner Bros., who claimed that iiNet was guilty of copyright infringement because it did not block the illegal downloads.

The ruling may be a major blow to Hollywood studios seeking to curb music, TV, and movie piracy by getting ISPs to monitor their users’ downloading activities, then warn and eventually block users whose actions the studios believe infringe on their copyrights.

Instead, the court ruled that iiNet could not be held responsible for its users infringing copyright. “While I find that iiNet had knowledge of infringements occurring, and did not act to stop them, such findings do not necessitate a finding of authorization,” Judge Dennis Cowdroy wrote in his ruling. “The evidence establishes that iiNet has done no more than to provide an internet service to its users.”

The consortium of movie studios suing the ISP had wanted iiNet to not only track customers using tools like BitTorrent to illegally download movies and other materials, but also to warn offenders and eventually terminate their Internet service if they continued to engage in copyright infringement. ISPs have been facing increasing pressure from big media companies to police the activities of their users, and some ISPs have entered into monitoring agreements that can result in users having their Internet access terminated if the ISPs or content providers believe they’re engaging in infringing behavior. The content industry’s focus on working with ISPs directly to shut down infringement comes after industry groups files waves of lawsuits on individual alleged infringers; while the vast major of those cases never went to trail, the cases that have wound through the courts have generally been a public relations disaster for the industry, which is now widely seen as prosecuting its own customers.

However, the Australian ruling may not have much impact on other jurisdictions: currently Italy is mulling legislation that would make online video providers (like YouTube) directly responsible for copyright infringment on their services.