Australian Internet industry warned over Swiftel

Australia's peak Internet body has asked its members to "contribute" to the defence of Internet service provider (ISP) Swiftel against litigation by the music industry over alleged copyright infringements.

Australia's peak Internet body has asked its members to "contribute" to the defence of Internet service provider (ISP) Swiftel against litigation by the music industry over alleged copyright infringements.

The Internet Industry Association (IIA) -- whose board includes representation from heavyweights such as Yahoo, Optus, Telstra and ninemsn -- issued the request in an e-mail which also revealed that "a number of substantial members" of the association were assessing the impact of the litigation on their operations.

Record labels have accused Perth-based Swiftel of copyright infringement in an action which alleges the ISP's employees and customers created a BitTorrent file-sharing hub to host thousands of pirated sound and video recordings.

IIA chief executive officer Peter Coroneos said in the e-mail those members "with potential liabilities" should "consider their position should Swiftel lose this case". However, in a subsequent interview with ZDNet Australia , Coroneos said the contributions alluded to in the e-mail would not be financial, but "expressions of support". Pressed for examples, he cited access to information, technical advice and other resources that may help their case.

Coroneos also said in the e-mail the IIA's board -- whose chairman is Philip Alexander, regional corporate development manager of Yahoo South Asia and whose board members include ninemsn chief executive officer Martin Hoffman, Telstra BigPond head Justin Milne and Domenic Carosa, CEO of digital content provider Destra -- had "authorised me to notify members of this matter".

However, Coroneos added the IIA would "not be supporting the litigation directly nor taking a strategic role ... but we may be providing the court with an amicus brief to assist the court's understanding of the issues at stake".

He said in his e-mail the outcome of the case -- currently before the Federal Court -- could alter "the balance struck within Australia's (Free Trade Agreement) amended copyright legislation, as far as liability for hosting and transmitting content are concerned".

"This case has the potential to see authorisation liability tested as it applies to [peer to peer] and may also amount to the first legal test of the new safe harbour regime," he added. The regime allows ISPs to avoid liability for copyright infringement by complying with take-down notices by content owners.

The IIA's e-mail is certain to heighten tensions between its members -- that include Australia's largest ISPs, telecommunications carriers, content creators and Web developers -- and the music industry, which has sought to extend the chain of responsibility for copyright-infringing behaviour to the owners of the networks on which illegal activities are undertaken.

In the interview, Coroneos emphasised the IIA was not taking any direct role in the proceedings. "Swiftel is looking for industry players to back it, and we're letting our members know," he said. "So the IIA is not taking any overt role in this."

Coroneos had "no indication" as yet on how much support Swiftel -- itself an IIA member -- had received from the industry.

With the Swiftel case expected to go on trial in November, the IIA was still undecided if it will provide an amicus brief, according to Coroneos.

"We need to examine the statement of claim against Swiftel," he said.

Any IIA amicus brief would include possible implications of the judge's verdict for the industry and Internet users, he said.

The parent company of Swiftel, People Telecom, did not respond to calls for comment when contacted.

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