Australian ISP wins file-sharing case

Copyright enforcers may target Australian lounge rooms after a failed attempt to hold ISPs responsible for file-sharing.


Progressive Australian ISP iiNet has survived a legal challenge from local copyright enforcement agency, the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT). AFACT teamed up with seven movie houses to launch a surprise legal attack on iiNet in late 2008, claiming the ISP wasn’t doing enough to stop its customers downloading movies using services such as BitTorrent. The Federal court this week dismissed the case and ordered the plaintiffs to cover iiNet’s legal costs, although AFACT is expected to appeal the decision.

iiNet is not Australia’s largest ISP, but managing director Michael Malone has been vocal critic of the Australian government’s controversial plans for mandatory ISP-level content filtering. AFACT’s lawsuit came as the government tried to win ISP support for the mandatory filtering service, with Federal communications minister Stephen Conroy leaving the door open to expanded the filtering to include “unsuitable” content and possibly file-sharing. Had the courts found against iiNet, critics feared the judgement could be used as leverage against Australian ISPs to force cooperation with mandatory filtering efforts.


Until now Australia’s copyright enforcers have shied away from bringing lawsuits against home users, with AFACT on the record as saying such actions are “not something we should be wasting police resources on”.

Reluctance to prosecute end users may dissipate after the iiNet case. After the ruling Sabiene Heindl, general manager of the music industry’s anti-piracy arm, Music Industry Piracy Investigations, said: ”Today’s Federal Court decision suggests that copyright owners broadly may have no choice but to sue individuals for illegal file-sharing. This would be a most unfortunate outcome.”

Free speech advocates also feature iiNet’s win could be short-lived if Australia signs the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which is currently under negotiation in secret. The treaty is pushing for global powers to force ISPs to adhere to take-down notices and disconnect customers or be held legally responsible for their actions.