MP3 site 'just a search engine'

A Web site at the centre of an Australian court case has denied hosting copyright-infringing files

The Internet company targeted by the music industry over alleged copyright breaches, ComCen, has denied it hosted any copyright-infringing MP3 files on its servers, and claims the Web site cited in the civil action brought against it acted only as a search engine.

On Tuesday, six large record companies took ComCen and Australian Stephen Cooper to court over alleged acts of music piracy. Comcen was linked to the Web site in question, mp3s4free.net, because it hosts the site, and the site has a logo advertising ComCen.

"At no time did we host any illegal MP3 files or MP3 files renamed as "gif" files on our server for mp3s4free.net," Liam Bal, a director of ComCen, told ZDNet Australia. "The Web site was basically an MP3 "search engine" that linked to other MP3 sites."

Bal said ComCen had been told by the lawyer for the record companies, Michael Williams, that a Web site that linked to other sites that hosted the MP3 files was involved in breach of copyright. "Therefore we believe this might be a test case for the music industry against search engines such as Yahoo.com.au, Anzwers and the like," said Bal.

Williams, from Gilbert and Tobin, seemed surprised by ComCen's claims.

"This is about a Web site that made available MP3 files," Williams told ZDNet Australia. "It was totally different to a search engine on the Internet, and we're confident the evidence before the court will demonstrate that. This has got nothing to do with search engines like Google."

Bal also denied an assertion by the head of Music Industry Piracy Investigations, Michael Speck, that Internet service providers derived revenue from illegal filesharing.

"This statement cannot be true, as ISPs have to pay for all data coming into their networks and get no revenue for outgoing data, so it’s in their interest not to host MP3 files," said Bal.

Patrick Fair, from Baker & McKenzie Lawyers, a member of the Internet Industry Association (IIA)), explained the IIA's general position on whether ISPs should be held accountable for the content hosted by them.

"[Suing ISPs because of content hosted on their servers is] not reasonable to the extent that the ISP had no knowledge or involvement in the activity of the relevant site," Fair told ZDNet Australia . "The IIA believes ISPs shouldn't be obliged to make positive enquiries as to what their clients are up to."

However, he conceded that providing unauthorised copies of copyrighted material was breaking the law, and if copyright-infringing material is brought to its attention, the ISP should remove the site. The procedures to be followed will be laid out in the soon-to-be-released Cybercrime Code of Conduct.

"If the ISP is on notice and continues to allow [the illegal activity] to happen, they expose themselves to this action," said Fair.

"We don't like that result," said Fair. "It would be nice if we could get the battle to be between the copyright holders and the [people who post the] content." However, having lost that particular argument with the government, ISPs are now required to prevent illegal activity if they are able to do so when it is brought to their attention "in line with other sectors of the economy".

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