US firm puts pressure on overseas ISPs

Australian Internet service providers have been pressured by a US company to terminate the contracts of customers accused of breaching copyright

Australian ISPs have doused reported attempts by a US digital copyright solutions company to force them to terminate the Internet contracts of customers suspected of breaching copyright rules.

MediaForce, a US digital copyright solutions company claiming to act on behalf of Warner Bros, has reportedly sent a letter to at least one Australian ISP listing a series of IP addresses it claims have been used to illegally access copyrighted material. The letter goes on to request the user of the IP addresses be denied access, and that their account be terminated.

"Since you own this IP address, we request that you immediately do the following: 1) Disable access to the individual who has engaged in the conduct described above; and 2) Terminate any and all accounts that this individual has through you," read the letter, a copy of which has been posted on broadband forum site Whirlpool.

None of the five ISPs contacted by ZDNet Australia claimed to have received the letter, but most indicated they would be unlikely to comply with the requests in the letter if they did receive one.

"We wouldn't act on it because Warner Bros is not a government body that would act on those things," Iain McKimm, Pacific Internet's director of technology and strategy told ZDNet Australia. "We can't act as police, we have to act on what the guidelines are."

Brendan Scott, a lawyer with Gilbert and Tobin, said it was uncertain whether MediaForce could bring legal proceedings against an Australian ISP. "The reason I say maybe is that the law prohibits reproduction and distribution to the public, but, from memory, doesn't directly impose obligations on third parties," he said.

"That said, you can infringe copyright by authorising an infringement. Saying 'here go copy this for me' can itself be a breach of the Act." added Scott. "There is an argument that [if] an ISP knows that A is using a service to infringe copyright that the ISP should be liable."

"In one case, Telstra v APRA a couple of years ago, Telstra was found liable for music on hold that its customers played to their customers -- even though Telstra had nothing to do with that music, weren't necessarily even aware of it, and couldn't stop it if they tried," said Scott. He pointed out that Australian courts don't enforce US law, so references to US legislation were spurious.

McKimm said MediaForce would have to go through regulatory channels if Pacific Internet was to comply with its requests. "[We won't act] unless we get something from the Attorney General or the Federal Police, or local police, otherwise we might be acting improperly."

McKimm pointed out that when Sony successfully had Sydney man Eddy Stevens charged with trademark infringement it proceeded through the proper authorities.

He also pointed out that when Australian authorities attempted to prosecute someone in the US the process was generally considered not worth the effort. "It takes so long, we have to get a court order out of Australia, then go to the US and the US has to act on them," said McKimm. "And we do find they tend to drag their feet."

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