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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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RE: what a concept
By lightfoot on 2/5/2010 4:02:02 PM , Rating: 2
say every car in the nation could be tracked at all times and every incident of traffic violation (speeding, not coming to a complete stop at an intersection...) would be tabulated and a fine assessed. Nearly every driver would receive fines in the millions.

You honestly think that it is impossible to obey the traffic laws? That's insane. In a hypothetical scenario as you mentioned something truly amazing would occur. People would start obeying the traffic laws. The only reason so many people violate traffic laws today is because those laws are largely unenforced, and the small risk of a ticket isn't worth the inconvenience of driving 5-10 MPH slower and coming to a complete stop at stop signs. If people actually thought the law would be enforced, you can be sure that all the laws would be obeyed by most drivers.

RE: what a concept
By eachus on 2/6/2010 9:58:18 AM , Rating: 2
You honestly think that it is impossible to obey the traffic laws? That's insane.
No, right now what is insane are many local speed limits. In some cases, state laws as well. For example, in Massachusetts, the law provides one maximum limit for rural roads, and another for built up areas. To the extent that you may run into that law cutting the speed limit almost in half because the density of housing is slightly over the limit, I have never seen or heard of anyone getting a ticket. Unless, of course, the lower limit is posted. If strictly enforced, there would be some roads designed for 50 mph or higher speeds with a drop to a 30 mph limit for a couple of hundred yards every few miles. And of course, the rule in the law is easy enough to calculate given Google Maps, but not when you are driving. One house, not visible from the road can change the limit.

But that is not a big deal if you drive in Massachusetts. The problem is that local towns can set different limits, post them, and enforce them, on both state highways and local roads. For one job I had, I went through 47 changes in posted limits in less than 15 miles, including one where the limit dropped from 45 to 30 halfway down a steep hill. (That is where the town line was. :-( Once I learned the route I could stay within the limits. However, one day there was a detour around resurfacing on a side road. They lowered the speed limit on the detour, including on a straight section of Route 113. In effect, I read the detour sign, realized it didn't apply to me, and didn't notice the (orange) speed limit sign that matched the Route 117 detour sign. Of course, I got stopped.

Note that the details of the detour, and the dates had been prominently displayed on that same sign for over a week--but not that the speed limit would change on the main road. :-( I got a warning, and the real reason for the speed limit change was to cover work vehicles entering and leaving the main road. (Which the weren't when I got stopped.) So the limit change was reasonable, and I probably would have slowed down if there were construction vehicles visible--they were at the other end of the section being repaved.

Once we have cars that drive themselves, and get up to date information on the laws--and on traffic--electronically, will it be possible to eliminate human judgment from the enforcement process.

As for the privacy implications of law-enforcement cameras, get over it. Today such cameras cost, with installation, thousands of dollars. In a few years though, the cost of a surveillance plus recording a day or so of coverage, and software that focuses on faces and records them at high resolution will be in the noise compared to putting up a street light--or an external light on your driveway. For that matter, your car will need sensors to drive itself. Are any resulting records subject to subpoena? So expect privacy in private, and not in public, and hope that the laws and law enforcement get it right. (Well, there are organizations like the EFF who are trying to help governments "get it," with respect to the clashes between technology and law. Supporting one whose views you agree with is a good use of your time and money.)

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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