Internet industry plays down music liability verdict

Australia's peak Internet body and a former music industry legal counsel have downplayed the industry ramifications of a recent Federal Court ruling against an Internet service provider (ISP) and a customer over music copyright breaches.Internet Industry Association chief executive officer Peter Coroneos said the Federal Court verdict that the operators of the Web site mp3s4free.

Australia's peak Internet body and a former music industry legal counsel have downplayed the industry ramifications of a recent Federal Court ruling against an Internet service provider (ISP) and a customer over music copyright breaches.

Internet Industry Association chief executive officer Peter Coroneos said the Federal Court verdict that the operators of the Web site mp3s4free.net had the ability to prevent copyright-infringing behaviour would have "very limited implications" for the Internet industry.

While conceding he had not read the judgement, Coroneos said the verdict was made in "a very unique case" in which the ISP had cooperated with the user and benefited financially via advertising revenue.

"That would apply to no ISP I know of in Australia. They wouldn't do that," he said.

Coroneos' comments came after the music industry signalled it would seek damages and injunctions against ISP ComCen and Stephen Cooper, the individual to whom the offending Web site was registered, following the ruling last week from Justice Brian Tamberlin. The general manager of the music industry's piracy investigations unit, Michael Kerin, heralded the decision as a "significant blow in the war against piracy".

However, Coroneos said "for the music industry to be trumpeting this [decision], I don't see that that [effect] follows."

His stance on the significance of the case received support from former Australian Recording Industry Association legal counsel, Alex Malik.

Malik said the case -- which has run for nearly two years -- fell under legislation in place prior to changes driven by the enacting of laws that supported the provisions of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement.

The amendments include the introduction of so-called "safe harbour" immunity provisions for Internet service providers when dealing with allegedly infringing material on their networks. An ISP can qualify for those provisions provided they comply with specified conditions.

"At best what we have here is a snapshot of the law as it applies to ISPs from around 2004," Malik said in an e-mail to ZDNet Australia.

"It's one of the problems of cases taking two years to run their course in an environment of dramatic legislative change," he said. "The case was certainly a positive result for the record companies, but it really only tells us part of the story."

"We probably won't know how the safe harbour provisions will operate until after the court hears the Swiftel case.

"Obviously the defence was fairly confident the safe harbour provisions would have saved them -- otherwise they wouldn't have pushed for their retrospective operation in this case.

"So this case may not be a useful precedent with respect to ISP conduct after January 1, 2005," Malik said.

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