Aussie ISP to Stand Trial for Content Piracy

SYDNEY, Australia - Australia's third largest Internet Service Provider will stand trial on charges of copyright theft this fall.

The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft filed suit against iiNet last year on behalf of seven film companies and their affiliates and licensees. The organization claims iiNET customers engage in illegal file sharing, a charge the Perth-based ISP denies.

The federation said it has warned the ISP 18 times over a five-month period and no action was taken as customers illegally downloaded and exchanged movies and TV shows via BitTorrnet programs, reports AustralianIT.

During a directions hearing Wednesday in Sydney, iiNET suggested the transfer of torrent files may not be copyright infringement because its customers use the platform to exchange all kinds of material.

With BitTorrent, movies or TV programs are broken down into smaller data files, the pieces later assembled. To that effect, the ISP's legal team said users were not distributing "substantial portions" of copyrighted material, adding that one-to-one sharing did not equal public dissemination of copyright material.

The Aussie copyright federation fired back that making any copyright material available is infringement.

"How you could not admit that users downloaded films is beyond us," said attorney Tony Bannon. "They don't stop customers doing what they're doing and they keep asserting that they have insufficient information."

Position statements will be presented next Wednesday, April 1. The trial begins in Australian Federal Court October 5.

Legal experts believe the case could well determine peer-to-peer network policies in Australia and other nations.

The nation's leading proponent of Internet filtering and banned websites, Senator Stephen Conroy, told the Communications and Media Law Association that the trial "embodies the challenge of how to lay down the rules for tomorrow."

Australian IT reports Conroy said the federation has "a concern that a large proportion of the activity may be infringing content ownership rights."

Conroy added the litmus test for Australian copyright will fully examine rights and laws regarding the Web.

"This level of infringement would be difficult to replicate in the offline world and, if it did occur, would likely be dealt with by laws and norms," he said. "But in the online space, the activity persists in ways that potentially undermine the commercial sustainability of the industry and promote an uncivil disregard for the law."

According to TechDirt, iiNET previously responded to the charges with the following statement:

"They send us a list of IP addresses and say 'this IP address was involved in a breach on this date'. We look at that say 'well what do you want us to do with this? We can't release the person's details to you on the basis of an allegation and we can't go and kick the customer off on the basis of an allegation from someone else,'" the statement said. "So we say 'you are alleging the person has broken the law; we're passing it to the police. Let them deal with it.'"

IiNET recently made global news when it dropped out of Australia's Internet filtering trials.

The federation is representing studios that include Village Roadshow, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros, Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Disney Enterprises, Seven Network and Twentieth Century Fox.  So far, damages are unspecified, but expected to soon be made public.