Hollywood studios lose landmark Internet download battle

February 4, 2010 by Talek Harris
Hollywood film studios have lost a landmark court bid to hold an Australian Internet provider responsible for illegal movie downloads by its customers, in a blow to their efforts against piracy.

Hollywood film studios on Thursday lost a landmark court bid to hold an Australian Internet provider responsible for illegal movie downloads by its customers, in a serious blow to their fight against piracy.

In a world-first judgement, a Federal Court judge ruled (ISP) iiNet did not authorise the downloads or have the power to stop them, thwarting the studios' latest attempt to stem billion-dollar losses.

"It is impossible to conclude that iiNet has authorised ... (it) did not have relevant power to prevent infringements occurring," Justice Dennis Cowdroy told a packed courtroom.

The case, involving major studios such as Warner Bros, Disney, Paramount, Columbia and Twentieth Century Fox, was seen as an ambitious attempt to force ISPs to act against piracy.

It hinged on thousands of downloads over the Perth-based iiNet network, Australia's third-largest ISP, over 59 weeks from June 2008 involving nearly 90 films and TV series including "Batman Begins", "Transformers" and "Heroes".

The movie studios hoped to set a worldwide precedent forcing ISPs to act against offenders, while Internet rights groups feared it would compel the firms to cut customers' web access without having to take them to court.

Cowdroy acknowledged widespread copyright violations but said these were not the responsibility of iiNet, whose customers downloaded films using the BitTorrent file-sharing application to watch on their laptops and PCs.

"The evidence establishes that copyright infringement of the applicants’ films is occurring on a large scale, and I infer that such infringements are occurring worldwide," he said.

"However, such fact does not necessitate or compel... a finding of authorisation, merely because it is felt that ‘something must be done’ to stop the infringements."

Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) chief Neil Gane, speaking on behalf of the consortium of 34 studios, expressed disappointment at the outcome of the case but held out hope the government would take action.

"We are confident that the government does not intend a policy outcome where rampant copyright infringement is allowed to continue unaddressed and unabated via the iiNet network," he said.

iiNet chief executive Michael Malone welcomed the "great" ruling and said the studios and Internet industry had to find ways to make legal film and TV downloads more widely available.

"I think the best way for us all to stop the copyright violations -- it doesn't help iiNet either -- is to make material legitimately available for customers," Malone told reporters.

The case comes after a Swedish court found four people behind the Pirate Bay site guilty of promoting copyright infringement in April 2009, sentencing them to a year in prison. The four have appealed the verdict.

Andrew Wiseman, a partner of law firm Allens Arthur Robinson's intellectual property arm, said the latest ruling would be cheered by Internet providers and closely watched worldwide.

He added that Hollywood was likely to make further attempts to tighten up on ISPs, rather than pursuing individually the millions of users who download illegal material.

"There were certainly some excited voices outside the courtroom from the ISPs and there were some very long faces from the studios," Wiseman told AFP.

"One thing's for sure: this is not the end of the journey. There's too much at stake. They can't sit there and have a whole new generation grow up with the understanding and belief that they can watch this stuff for free."

The trial was also Australia's first proceedings reported live on Twitter.

Judge Cowdroy approved the unusual measure, which resulted in hundreds of postings on the micro-blogging site.

"This proceeding has attracted widespread interest both here in Australia and abroad, and both within the legal community and the general public," he said in a summary of the case released on Thursday.

"So much so that I understand this is the first Australian trial to be Twittered or tweeted. I granted approval for this to occur in view of the public interest in the proceeding, and it seems rather fitting for a copyright trial involving the Internet."

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Feb 04, 2010
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not rated yet Feb 04, 2010
I like how TV series are included, when you can legally record these from your tv anyway..
5 / 5 (3) Feb 04, 2010
Billion dollar losses my ass, the illegal downloaders would mostly not buy this stuff anyway. I buy my movies and the fact that I could download them illegally doesn't change that. And another article here states that Sony made a quarterly 870 million profit significantly exceeding expectations, they happen to own a ton of movies.
not rated yet Feb 04, 2010
I like how TV series are included, when you can legally record these from your tv anyway..

Not really -- you cannot leagally keep a copy of a television program... Its like with football games -- you cannot reproduce any portion of the game for viewing. Well the networks hold these rights for the television programs they produce.
not rated yet Feb 04, 2010
if that were the case, DVR's wouldnt have been introduced, correct? Because that's all they're used for. Recording TV. I think this is great news, the ISP should NOT be responsible for what their users are doing. Movie studios, if you want to pay people to monitor downloads, go ahead, but don't expect ISPs to do your work for you.
5 / 5 (2) Feb 04, 2010
Hollywood says, that if we download digital content for free - they would die. I have been using digital content for free for 15 years, and I never bought any digital content (although, I did donate to free software development). So, I have a question - how much longer do I need to download proprietary content for free, so that you would finally die? I mean - hurry it up already; you are a relic of the past, there is no place for you in the future.
not rated yet Feb 05, 2010
There is a balance. When price overcomes the hasle of copying, the piracy will go away. In a nutshell....Hollywood is expensive and so people do what they do. Personally my hoarding and copying stopped when Netflix came to be. That was my price to benefit ratio. I still buy a few favorite movies but now just use Netflix. I dont even need a fancy video recorder anymore since they have my favorite tv shows as well. Now if someone made a music version of Netflix I would subscribe to that as well. I dont mind paying $10 a month to rent art of any kind with access anytime.

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