Day Four: AFACT v iiNet BitTorrent Piracy Appeal

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After an earlier ruling went in iiNet's favor, the ISP and the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft were back in Federal Court for the fourth straight day of the appeal today. AFACT, representing many Hollywood studios, argued that Internet subscribers should be held accountable not just for their own infringements, but for those carried out by anyone using their account.

As the hearing entered its fourth day, AFACT, representing the Village Roadshow and more than thirty Hollywood studios, and ISP iiNet were back in Federal Court for the appeal in their copyright infringement dispute. Three judges will eventually decide if iiNet can be held accountable for copyright infringements carried out by its customers.

In the meantime, AFACT would like to go a step further, as it insisted today that Internet subscribers should not only be responsible for their own infringements, but for those carried out by anyone using their account.

AFACT lawyer Christian Dimitriadis told the panel of three judges that is was irrelevant if an account holder infringed copyright or not, adding: “The fact that the user may be another person other than the subscriber doesn’t change the fact that the information relates to the personal affairs of the subscriber.”

Dimitriadis said that even though the Internet bill-payer was the only one to physically enter into an agreement with iiNet, by default all other users of that connection must also agree to be bound by the same terms. AFACT continues to argue that if subscribers break the terms of their agreement and use their accounts to break the law, iiNet has the ability and power to terminate their contracts and disconnect them from the Internet.

According to another report today, that notion has started to receive the sympathy.

In a continuation from our earlier report, yesterday two of the appeal judges questioned Justice Cowdroy’s reasoning in the original ruling which deemed that disconnecting customer accounts was an unreasonable response to infringements.

Cowdroy reasoned that from the evidence provided in the case, it could not be decided to what extent any subscriber had used their account for infringement.

Lawyer for iiNet Richard Cobden told Justice Arthur Emmett that on this basis it would unreasonable to close a customer account. Justice John Nicholas then asked if the evidence ever showed to what extent customers used their accounts for piracy.

“We’re just saying that the reasonable step that would be incumbent upon an ISP must be tailored to what has been put in front of them,” said Cobden, according to The Australian.

“And if what’s put in front of us is that there’s not a significant use of quota on an account in relation to this, it affects the question of whether the reasonable step to be taken is to turn over the whole account which, as we say, is what our learned friends seek.”

In other words, the evidence provided by AFACT – which shows that a particular account was infringing copyright at a precise moment in time – does not show to what extent an account was used to infringe copyright overall.

Justice Emmett, however, suggested that maybe an important point had been arrived at.

“Maybe the stage is reached where it’s reasonable to say, ‘Look, you’ve had warning after warning. Maybe you’re doing other lawful things, but if you insist on doing this unlawful activity, we’re going to close you down’.”

Cobden later countered that he could only go by the evidence provided in the case, and that shutting down an account was not an appropriate response to it.

iiNet weren’t the only ones to point to a lack of evidence in order to refute an argument. In the original hearing, iiNet said the existence of its legal content distribution platform, Freezone, showed that the ISP had made efforts to discourage users from sharing illegal content and that this model was a better way to deal with piracy than legal action by outfits such as AFACT.

AFACT lawyer David Catterns told the Federal Court that the existence of Freezone is irrelevant, since there is no evidence that portal reduced piracy on iiNet’s network.

The two sides also clashed on the implications of the Telecommunications Act and whether ISPs could use it as a reason not to deal with infringement notices issued by rights holders such as AFACT.

The hearing continues.

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