Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's office has kept tight-lipped about possible legislative changes to telecommunications and copyright law in the wake of iiNet's victory in the Federal Court today.
A government spokeswoman for the minister was reticent when asked if the case could provoke law reform, saying only that the government “will examine the Federal Court’s decision... and will consider what the implications for the industry are.”
It follows iiNet's successful defence today against damages sought against it by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) in which the court found iiNet had not facilitated copyright infringement by its customers.
Some industry members speculated the decision would be a catalyst for copyright reform in Australia, either preventing ISPs from the need to police their networks for pirate users, or prompting government to introduce tough punishments for copyright infringements.
Webshield managing director Anthony Pillon said the ruling will "ultimately decide" whether an ISP is responsible for instances of copyright infringement on its network.
“Many ISPs have a long-held belief that their responsibility ends at the pipes: People transact over the network and they have no responsibility for what goes over them,” Pillon said.
University of Melbourne associate professor David Brennan previously told <i>Computerworld</i> the outcome of the trial will re-write copyright law in Australia, regardless of the outcome.
"My view of this is... ultimately it will be a trigger for law reform," Brennan said. He also predicted law reform if iiNet were to win.
Copyright reform has swept the globe in recent years. The French Constitutional Council last October passed the controversial Hadopic (High Authority for the Diffusion and Protection of Internet Creations) law, created by the country’s federal government, which allows the Internet connections of individuals to be revoked if they are accused of copyright violations following judicial review. Britian’s House of Lords is currently debating amendments to its Digital Economy Bill which this week saw several amendments that may impose harsh penalties on individuals and organisations that violate copyright law. One such amendment would see a cash value placed on individual infringements – such as a single album track – at the time ISPs are notified of a subscriber breach, while another proposal would see account holders responsible for all infringements originating from their IP address.
Bit Torrent websites accused of promoting copyright infringement have also been shutdown, annexed or forced to remove copyright material by federal authorities.
A ruling by Italy's highest appeal court in September last year saw a nation-wide ban on access to notorious bit torrent site The Pirate Bay, following an overturn of a previous decision that unblocked access to the site, on the grounds that the laws invoked applied only to child pornography and unauthorized gambling.
The decision was made despite the web site’s immaterial nature, with the court deciding the The Pirate Bay was not a neutral instrument of peer-to-peer communication because it assisted clients in their copyright violations by providing an index of content and a search engine.
Treaties such as the Berne Convention and the Patent Cooperation Treaty exist to harmonise copyright but they fall short of a workable international solution. The convention sets out minimum copyright protections of which additional layers of law vary wildly across the world, meaning it is difficult for an organisation such as AFACT to prosecute copyright infringers.