The attention of movie studios, record companies and online pirates around the globe is this morning focused on an Australian court ruling on whether internet service providers should prevent their customers sharing files.
In the landmark Federal Court decision, Australia's third-largest ISP iiNet has been found not guuilty from allowing its customers to illegally share files using the peer-to-peer technology commonly known as Bit Torrents.
The Federal Court has dismissed the finding that Australia's No.3, iiNet internet provider did not authorise copyright infringement on its network.
The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft representing the film industry, has been ordered to pay iiNet's costs.
The action was brought against iiNet by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft on behalf of a coalition of 34 copyright holders including huge media companies like Village Roadshow, Paramount Pictures Australia and Twentieth Century Fox International.
AFACT claimed it sent iiNet weekly infringement notices concerning the activities of its customers before taking legal action, which concerned 94,000 alleged infringements by users of the iiNet network over 59 weeks from June 2008.
iiNet rejected claims it had failed to stop its customers users from illegally downloading content, including movies and television shows, telling the court it had not encouraged or authorised the illegal downloading of copyrighted material and issued warnings to its users in attempts to discourage the activity.
It was feared that if the judgement went against iiNet, Internet Providers will be forced into the role of 'copyright police', responsible for denying access to the web for users suspected of illegally downloading movies, television shows, music or software.
Justice Cowdroy of the Federal Court found iiNet users had infringed copyright by downloading films on BitTorrent, but he found that the number of infringers was far less than alleged by AFACT.
More importantly, Justice Cowdroy said that the mere provision of access to internet is not the means to infringement. Copyright infringement occurred as result of use of BitTorrent, not the Internet. iiNet has no control over BitTorrent system and not responsible for BitTorrent systemThe fact worldwide piracy was rife does not necessitate or compel a finding of authorisation, just because it is felt there is something that must be done"
And he found that iiNet was "entitled to safe harbour" provisions because it had a policy on infringement, even if its policy didn't stand up to AFACT's standards.
The case, which has been running since November 2008, has attracted global interest from ISPs, companies holding the copyright for movies, music and games, and copyright lawyers.