Tension and anticipation cut the air in room 18C of the Federal Court of Australia during the dying moments before Justice Cowdroy yesterday ended a year of media and industry speculation, and announced the victory of a Perth-based telco over a band of entertainment giants.
While the technology press is filled with coverage on what the decision means for industry, many journalists and industry players told your reporter they could not anticipate whether iiNet or the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) consortium would win. Most had instead hedged their bets.
But despite the understanding that a losing party would likely appeal, the suspense around the cessation of the year-long catalytic case was palpable. Journalists crammed alongside AFACT and iiNet representatives in the small courtroom and listened to Cowdroy's brief but succinct and thorough reasons for crushing the case against the Internet Service Provider (ISP).
An audible sigh (or was it a moan?) was detected escaping from the litigants as judgement was given. ISP chief Michale Malone exited to the waiting media throng with the weight of a $4 million defence written across his forehead in beads of sweat.
That he told jostling press he was “relieved” at the cessation of the case perhaps understated the expected liberation of liability now bestowed on the rest of Australia's ISPs; AFACT's Neil Gane left after a terse statement expressing his disappointment at the result and belief that the government will not abide “unbridled” copyright infringement.
It may have marked the end of litigation against ISPs for responsibility of customers who flaunt with pirate music and movies, but it has far from made Australia a safehabour for pirates. France, Italy, and the UK have, or are presently investigating serious punishments for users – not ISPs - found to be breaching copyright.
Companies with serious legal and political power are pushing for tougher copyright laws all over the world. Take a look at the rumour mill surrounding the shadowy ACTA plurilateral trade agreement. Many of these companies are not convinced of the benefits of new online distribution models - perhaps to protect established systems of profit - and speculation will continue until financial models are developed that are compelling to both publishers and would-be pirates.