Expert witness embarrassed on the stand in Cooper copyright case

An expert witness in the copyright infringement case against retired police officer Stephen Cooper, was embarrassed on the stand yesterday when the defence counsel showed images of the professor's own Web site linking to copyright material. Professor Leon Sterling, the witness for the Universal Music party, was clearly uncomfortable when lawyer for the defence, Quentin Cregan, asked Sterling to visit his own Web site using a laptop that was projected onto a large screen in the court room.

An expert witness in the copyright infringement case against retired police officer Stephen Cooper, was embarrassed on the stand yesterday when the defence counsel showed images of the professor's own Web site linking to copyright material.

Professor Leon Sterling, the witness for the Universal Music party, was clearly uncomfortable when lawyer for the defence, Quentin Cregan, asked Sterling to visit his own Web site using a laptop that was projected onto a large screen in the court room.

Sterling was then lost for words when he clicked on a link to one of his students Web sites - from the University of Melbourne - that featured a copyright 'Dilbert' cartoon and a link to the Web site for the peer-to-peer file sharing software Kazaa.

The owner and distributor of Kazaa, Sharman Networks, is also awaiting trial for copyright infringement charges.

Sterling responded to the discovery by stating that the student was in the wrong and would be reprimanded.

Non-profit national organisation for Internet users, Electronic Frontiers Australia, (EFA) said it's "standing by" its initial statement on the case, maintaining the case may have "major implications for freedom of speech on the internet".

EFA board member, Dale Clapperton, told ZDNet Australia yesterday that "hyperlinking" - the practice of providing a link to another Web site - does not infringe on copyright legislation.

"That is all he was doing in this case, he was only providing links to other sites," said Clapperton.

According to Clapperton, hyperlinking "as a concept" does not incriminate the author of the Web site providing the link, as he said "you don't have any control over what the other Web site does".

Clapperton also responded to comments made by general manager of the Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI) Michael Speck on the stand earlier this week, contending that "links were a natural extension of the Web site".

"Trying to argue that you're publishing something when all you're doing is linking to it is ridiculous," he said.

The EFA condemned the raids on Cooper's premises in October 2003 as "heavy-handed tactics". Clapperton stated at the time that "the use of an Anton Piller order [civil search warrant order] against Mr Cooper and his ISP smacks of intimidation and is an unreasonable and unwarranted action".

Clapperton also added the implication of Cooper's internet service provider, Com-Cen, in the proceedings goes against the amendments made to the Copyright Act last year, which he said "were designed to prevent this very type of claim against Internet Service Providers".

"Holding Internet publishers and hosting companies legally liable for the content of other sites that they link to threatens to chill the speech of all Internet users. This case should be of major concern to all Australian Internet users," he said.

The Cooper trial continues today.