Copyright holders have dismissed a United Nations report declaring that access to the internet should be seen as a fundamental right for humans, stating that intellectual property rights are an actual UN-declared human right.
Last week UN special rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue, delivered a report to the UN stating that there should be as little restriction as possible in the flow of information on the internet, as it was a form of expression.
"The special rapporteur believes that the internet is one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies," La Rue said in his report. "As such, facilitating access to the internet for all individuals, with as little restriction to online content as possible, should be a priority for all states."
New Zealand recently enacted a "three strikes" law for copyright infringement that gives courts the power to suspend a repeat infringer's access to the internet for six months, and the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) has lobbied for Australian internet service providers to enforce a graded response to copyright infringement including account termination for repeat offenders.
It was iiNet's refusal to implement AFACT's proposed policy or indeed take any action that led the group to sue the company, alleging that the provider authorised its customers copyright infringement by not acting. iiNet won both the case and AFACT's subsequent appeal; however, AFACT has now sought leave to appeal the matter to the High Court of Australia.
While a number of caveats were placed on the freedom for internet access in La Rue's report, including protecting children from harm and limiting hate speech, no mention was made on limiting internet access due to the infringement of copyright.
Pirate Party Australia acting secretary Simon Frew welcomed the findings of the UN report and said that governments should seek to protect this fundamental right, and not accept at face value the claims of copyright holders that could lead to customers being disconnected.
"The rule of law should never be abandoned to protect failing business models, no matter how much money movie studios and record labels donate to major political parties around the world," Frew said.
AFACT responded by stating that, unlike internet access, intellectual property was a human right as declared by the UN.
"The protection of a person's intellectual property is a human right under Article 27 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, which states that everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author," AFACT told ZDNet Australia in a statement. "If internet access is declared a human right, we assume ISPs will stop disconnecting users for not paying their bills."
In the high profile federal court case, AFACT had argued that as iiNet disconnected customers for failing to pay their bills, it was within the company's power to disconnect customers for copyright infringement. iiNet disagreed, stating at the time that it had no power to act on notices from AFACT that it could not substantiate were accurate.
In the latest ruling on the matter, one of the three judges stated that if content owners were able to provide "unequivocal and cogent evidence" to ISPs of its users' copyright infringement, then ISPs would be "compelled to act" on it.
In response to the latest ruling, iiNet has developed a proposal for an independent third party to mediate copyright infringement disputes between copyright holders, ISPs and internet users. The model proposes a series of fines for repeat offenders, but does not go so far as to restrict internet access for customers.
iiNet's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby told ZDNet Australia last week that a number of content owners were backing away from the AFACT approach to dealing with copyright infringement and were open to iiNet's piracy mediator proposal.