Australian court rejects studios' piracy appeal

ROD McGUIRK

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Movie and television studios on Friday failed to convince Australia's High Court that Internet service providers should be punished for illegal video downloads made by their customers.

U.S. and Australian studios had challenged a landmark lower court ruling that service providers cannot be held accountable for illegal downloads. The studios wanted the companies to be required to take "reasonable steps" to stop customers from downloading pirated movies.

Australia's highest court found that iiNet Ltd., Australia's third-largest Internet provider, had no direct technical power to prevent its customers from using the BitTorrent system to infringe the copyrights of the studios' films.

Customers of iiNet have downloaded thousands of movies via the Internet's leading file-sharing protocol, BitTorrent.

The case was the first for a court to rule on whether an ISP could be held liable for copyright violations by its users.

Tony Bannon, a lawyer for a group of 34 movie companies including Australian branches of Hollywood studios Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, told the High Court in November that iiNet had authorized the copyright violations by failing to take reasonable steps to prevent it.

The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, representing copyright holders, in 2008 began sending iiNet infringement notices detailing the unauthorized downloads and exchanges peer-to-peer. The federation asked Perth-based iiNet take action, but iiNet declined.

IiNet's agreement with customers entitles it to cancel the Internet access of any account holder that violates a copyright. But iiNet has advised customers that no account would be canceled unless a court determined an infringement had occurred.