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A comic written by AFACT warns children of the dangers of piracy.  (Source: AFACT)
Yesterday was a bitter one for Australia's piracy opponents

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the parent organization of the RIAA, and assorted motion picture copyright organizations worldwide (such as the MPAA) have over the last decade has been trying to combat piracy worldwide.  The organizations have seen different degrees of success in different nations.  Some nations have largely refused to let their citizens be policed by copyright organization lawyers.  Others, though, like France and Britain have embraced the efforts so thoroughly, that they have pending legislation that could force internet service provider to terminate paying customers that fileshare copyrighted works.

Another nation that was thought to be rather pro-copyright holders was Australia.  Australia also mulled over "three strikes" legislation in recent years, which would take filesharers offline.  However, a key Australian court ruling has changed all of that, essentially killing a major avenue of the copyright enforcers' efforts in the country.

The case began with the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (a motion picture copyright protection organization) filing suit against internet service provider iiNet, trying to secure a ruling to force it to police its network for filesharing and warn and/or disconnect violators. 

A landmark decision was delivered on Thursday morning by the Australian Federal Court (similar to the U.S. Supreme Court), covered live on Twitter (the first Australian federal case to be covered by the microblogging service).  In the end, Justice Dennis Cowdroy struck a major blow against the copyright protection organizations, ruling that the ISP had not "authorised" its customers' infringement by ignoring thousands of letters from AFACT.

He said that iiNet was merely providing customers a service (internet) and it was not the company's fault if customers abused it, using Bittorrent or other filesharing technologies.  He stated, "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."

Tony Joyner, a partner in the technology and IT group at Australian law firm Freehills says that the decision brought an intriguing end to an interesting case.  He describes, "Everything iiNet says is rational.  They're saying we're just a simple conduit and if people are doing bad things it's not up to us to be the police. The studios are also being very rational and saying it's happening on your turf, so we need you to do something."

The effects of the decision may be multifold.  Sabiene Heindl, general manager of the music industry's anti-piracy arm, Music Industry Piracy Investigations (an IFPI child org.) threatens, "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."

Still, suing individuals would be much less cost effective to the music and movie studios than merely securing legislation forcing ISPs to ban filesharers.  As Australia has a system of checks and balances, the copyright organizations could still pour their money into lobbying Australian legislators to push through legislation reversing the court verdict.  They also have up to 21 days to appeal the verdict.

The Australian decision is of significant interest to the United States' own piracy debate.  In the U.S. the cost of lawsuits has forced the RIAA and MPAA to scale back their legal campaigns against individual citizens.  However, they did secure an ally in America's third largest broadband provider, Verizon.  Verizon recently began sending warning letters to customers who fileshare to "educate" them on the dangers.

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By StevoLincolnite on 2/5/2010 10:42:21 AM , Rating: 2
The case happened in the Federal Courts, they will appeal and take it to the Supreme courts.

iiNet had massive backing from Telstra (Who have more lawyers than you can poke an LRM at. ~ See what I did there?), there customer base and practically the entire industry, and some government officials.

Hence the movie companies set themselves up for failure before they already started. (That and there was legislation passed a while back before the case started to try and help protect ISP's)

Personally iiNet (Also commonly known as iiBorg) shouldn't have been brought in this at all, this is mostly all about Torrents, and money, mostly money, money they "Might" be loosing because of the Mc' Pirates! ARRRG!!! (P.S, Avatar says different!)

RE: The australian supreme court is pretty wussy
By Helbore on 2/5/2010 3:06:52 PM , Rating: 2
But the article says that the Australian Federal Court is their equivalent of the US Supreme Court. Surely that means they are the highest authority?

By Justin Time on 2/5/2010 3:59:47 PM , Rating: 2
The article is wrong.

The Australian Federal Court is NOT comparable to the USA Supreme Court, but is more comparable to the USA Federal District Court.

The USA Supreme Court is more comparable to the Australian High Court, which usually only hears consitutional matters.

The High Court does have appellate jurisdiction over the Federal Court, but this is only by special leave, and so is rare.

Normally, decisions made by a single judge in the Australian Federal Court, are appealed to the Federal Court’s own Court of Appeals, where a panel of judges will review the decision.

However, the appeals court will *ONLY* hear appeals where it can be shown that the original decision was an error in law.

You can’t appeal by presenting new evidence, new witnesses, new anything. You have to convince the appeals court that the original judge didn’t know the law... which means that appeals are not taken lightly.

By Justin Time on 2/5/2010 4:17:44 PM , Rating: 2
The "Supreme" courts in Australia are state courts, and effectively subordinate to the Federal court.

The Federal court has its own court of appeals – the FULL Court - which can review decisions.

In special circumstances, the High Court can hear appeals of Federal court decisions, but it normally requires that it involves a constitutional issue.

The last court of resort in Australian law is rarely used – the Privy Council – which involved taking the case to England.

By maluminse on 2/6/2010 3:02:53 AM , Rating: 2
FYI appeals to the Privy Council are no longer possible in Australia since the Australia Acts in 1986. The High Court is the final court of appeal.

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