“I find that the mere provision of access to the internet is not the means of infringement,” Federal Court Justice Dennis Cowdroy ruled. “If the ISPs become responsible for the acts of their customers, essentially they become this giant and very cheap mechanism for anyone with any sort of legal claim.”
However, the judge’s ruling against the studios’ consortium called Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft comes amid deepening pressure from the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America for internet service providers to take some copyright responsibility. The ISP said in a statement that “this case has been important not just for iiNet, but the entire internet industry.” (.pdf) Almost all BitTorrent traffic consists of infringing material.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement secretly being negotiated between the United States, European Union and others might require ISPs to terminate copyright scofflaws’ internet access or assume copyright liability for their customers’ behavior, according to leaked documents. What’s more, Italy this week announced proposed new measures that would make YouTube and other video-sharing sites liable for infringing material posted by their customers.
Similar claims are being made in the United States, where Viacom is suing YouTube, accusing it of being vicariously liable for the infringing activity of its users. That 2007 case is pending. Viacom alleges that Google-owned Viacom undertakes a “brazen disregard of intellectual property laws.”