Hollywood Studios Lose World’s First Major Ruling on Downloading of Copyrighted Material

Saturday, April 21, 2012
Film industry executives lost their first major international court case involving piracy and copyright infringement, when Australia’s highest court unanimously ruled against them.
The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), representing 34 U.S. and Australian film and TV studios, took Internet service provider (ISP) iiNet to court claiming the ISP was responsible for its customers illegally sharing copyrighted material using BitTorrent. The High Court of Australia disagreed with AFACT, ruling 5-0 that iiNet “had no direct technical power” to prevent customers from breaking the law.
Had the studios won, they could have forced ISPs to actively prevent piracy on their networks.
The case, first filed in November 2008, was supported by Universal Pictures, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox and Disney, and, behind the scenes, by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA.
According to a State Department cable released by WikiLeaks and sent by then-U.S. Ambassador Robert McCallum, “Despite the lead role of AFACT and the inclusion of Australian companies Village Roadshow and the Seven Network, this is an MPAA/American studios production…. AFACT is essentially MPAA's Australian subcontractor…. MPAA prefers that its leading role not be made public. AFACT and MPAA worked hard to get Village Roadshow and the Seven Network to agree to be the public Australian faces on the case to make it clear there are Australian equities at stake, and this isn't just Hollywood “bullying some poor little Australian ISP.’”
In February 2010, Justice Dennis Cowdroy ruled that ISPs were not responsible for their customers’ downloading habits. The studios appealed and lost again in February 2011 before making its final appeal to the Australian High Court.
AFACT and the Hollywood studios have indicated that they will now pursue legislative remedies.
-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Hollywood Loses Final Appeal In Piracy Case (by Ben Grub, Sydney Morning Herald)
iiNet, AFACT Plot the Way Forward (by Suzanne Tindal and Josh Taylor, ZDNet.com.au)

Roadshow Films Pty Ltd & ORS V iiNet Limited (High Court of Australia) (pdf) 


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