Online copyright infringement – back to drawing board

The way the press is reporting it, the Minister for Communications – one of the two Ministers who released the Online Copyright Infringement discussion paper in July – recognises it’s back to the drawing board in light of the (apparently) unanimous disapproval.

SMH

News

You can find the submissions received here (apparently they are being uploaded over time).

Will the ISPs voluntarily sit down and negotiate a warning system with the copyright owners? Do we really want the copyright owners and the ISPs coming up with their own scheme without “our” input?

iiNet and the movie studios

Some points worth pondering arising from the recent pleadings fight

Both the movie studios and iiNet brought motions for summary judgment and/or to strike parts of the other side’s pleadings relating to the claims that (1) iiNet authorised infringement, (2) iiNet was liable as a primary infringer for actually reproducing the allegedly copied films and (3) whether or not iiNet was also liable in conversion.

The movie companies are obviously suing iiNet for authorising the (alleged) infringing activities of iiNet’s subscribers on a theory similar to the successful theories in Cooper v Universal.

Part of iiNet’s defence is that the notice it received of the claimed infringements were ‘mere allegations of copyright infringement’. The judge considered this sufficient to make iiNet’s point:

56.   The Court has no difficulty in understanding such pleading as being a statement that the AFACT notifications did no more than bring to iiNet’s attention an allegation of copyright infringement. Whether the notifications from DtecNet of alleged infringement are sufficient to prove infringement by iiNet’s users or might be used as evidence that iiNet was aware of the infringement of its users is necessarily a matter requiring evidence and thus is a matter for determination at the hearing. So considered, there is nothing further which needs to be added to the pleading. The Court rejects Roadshow’s assertion that such statement is inadequate.

 That is, iiNet appears to be defending the allegation of authorising copyright infringement in part by contending it did not have sufficient knowledge of what was going on to have the necessary control. As the quote shows, however, whether or not iiNet’s position will be good enough to win the day remains to be seen.

The other fights which are of potentially more general interest relate to the movie companies’ allegations that iiNet is itself a direct or primary infringer (not just an authoriser) or liable in conversion under s 116.

In relation to conversion, the judge considered it wasn’t clear whether the movie companies were alleging that the ‘infringing copies’ alleged to be converted were the data electronically transmitted across iiNet’s network (facilities) as temporary or transient copies stored in iiNet’s switches and servers or in some other way.

43.   It does not follow from the fact that the Court may find that the iiNet users have ‘electronically transmitted’ the films that the Court will necessarily have to find that the data so transmitted constitutes an ‘infringing copy.’ For example, the Court could find as a fact that the users have ‘electronically transmitted’ the whole or substantial part of the films by reference only to the conduct of the users without the Court having to consider the involvement of the technical process by which that transmission occurs. In such instance, the Court’s finding in relation to the conduct of the iiNet users may have no bearing on whether it finds that the data transmitted is, while in transmission, a copy of the film as defined, meaning an article or thing in which the visual images or sounds comprising the film are embodied. The data would need to be a copy for it to constitute an infringing copy, and there would have to be an infringing copy for there to be conversion.

The judge described the movie companies’ claims as novel but, at this stage of the proceedings, refused summary judgment and required them

47.   … to specify exactly what the ‘infringing copies’ are; how they are created; and at least one instance of them, as is required by O 58 r 16 of the Rules

Thirdly, it does appear that the movie companies contend that iiNet directly infringes because any temporary/transient copies of infringing material stored in its network or on its servers as users download or transmit them are infringing reproductions. Unlike the conversion claim, the judge considered this adequately pleaded:

50.   The issues the Court has raised regarding the definition of ‘infringing copy’, and whether that could apply on the facts pleaded, do not arise in relation to this claim. If it is found that there was transient storage of the whole or substantial part of the films, this may give rise to there being a ‘copy’ for the purposes of s 86(c) of the Copyright Act, and consequently the problems discussed above in relation to ‘electronic transmission’ do not apply.

Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v iiNet Limited [2009] FCA 332

Earlier background on the case here and here.

The Internet Wars (copyright campaign) come to ISPs down under

The big movie studios have brought proceedings against iiNet, one of the larger (in a non-Bigpond sort of way) ISPs seeking to impose liability on the ISP for infringing downloading by its subscribers.

The Application is here (pdf) and the Statement of Claim is here (pdf).

Various analyses:

Nic Suzor has a detailed view here

Kim Weatherall here

Australian PC Mag here

The Film Industry outlines its position here

IPRoo carries a quote from the Internet Industry Association’s CEO here.

As you can see from this coverage, this has really set the cat among the pigeons.  The striking thing about this action, however, is that one might have characterised iiNet as a general purpose ISP, not existing just to promote infringing downloads like the Court’s found Mr Cooper’s mp3s4free.com or substantially like Kazaa.

Thus, the distinction propounded by the record companies in Cooper (at [123]) and both questioned and side-stepped by Branson J (at [40]) appears to be very squarely off the table. So, as many of the bloggers note, it is not too much of a stretch to claim that the future of the internet is at stake here.  Will the old Copyright Convergence Group‘s analogy to the postal system – imposing liability only on the person who introduces (posts) the material – be confirmed or will we, through the Courts, turn back into a closed, monitored system?

The ISPs can hardly be surprised:

(a) s 101(1A(c) expressly provides for the development of an industry code to establish norms;

(b) the copyright owners have directly attacked the ISPs in Eire;

(c) the UK government has “brokered” some sort of more “pro-active” role on ISPs too.

No doubt, if the matter goes to trial, we can expect to see a volume of evidence about the volume of iiNet’s P2P traffic vis a vis its other activities and, before then, perhaps some applications for discovery of traffic details.

Given that liability appears to be predicated on authorisation, it will also be particularly interesting to see how the movie producers circumvent the prohibition on intercepting communications over a telecommunications system and, perhaps, (if an ISP is a carriage service provider) the prohibition on use or disclosure of information the contents of any communication carried by a carriage service provider.