In a story that almost mirrors the biblical tale a puny (in terms of size and muscle) Australian ISP has battled with, and beaten, the burly media and content rights holders of Hollywood and beyond. And the battle, played out in the Australian Supreme Court, could have massive repercussions worldwide.
Presiding judge Justice Cowdroy cleared the ISP, iiNet of allegations that it had authorised subscribers to violate copyright laws and ordered the applicants, 34 rights owners represented by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), to pay iiNet’s costs.
Putting the case in layman’s terms, it appears that AFACT discovered some of iiNet’s customers were infringing copyright and they asked iiNet to stop them. iiNet didn’t because it felt that by doing so it would contravene Australia’s Telecommunications Act (a point the judge later rebuked).
Justice Cowdroy found that “the mere provision of access to the internet is not the means of infringement; there does not appear to be any way to infringe the applicants’ copyright from the mere use of the internet.”
“Rather, the means by which the applicants’ copyright is infringed is an internet user’s use of the constituent parts of the Bittorrent system. iiNet has no control over the Bittorrent system and is not responsible for the operation of the Bittorrent system.”
Whether you think the finding is right or wrong it reminds you of other analogies and how they might have played out. For example, could a fixed line or mobile operator be charged because one of its customers made a threatening or abusive phone call that was in breach of a law? Could you sue a car manufacturer because one of their vehicles was involved in accident with you?
It does seem strange that copyright cases that get press always seem to involve ordinary people or small operators without the means to fight back. Be it the single mother in Utah or the unemployed man in Nebraska, they always seem such easy targets. Perhaps the powers that be thought they could make a test case by singling out a small ISP somewhere in a far off land to establish a precedent case that could not possibly be lost.
Nobody wants to deny performing artists their living or movie studios their royalties but when you see one movie earning almost $2 billion in six weeks it may hard for some people to be sympathetic. Maybe it’s time for an overhaul of selling prices for movies, especially those downloaded, as they provide good returns at almost zero distribution cost to the studios. After all it worked for the music industry with iTunes.
Will we see a remake of David & Goliath, in this modern context? I doubt it.