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Telcos and musicians join fight over internet downloads

TELECOMMUNICATIONS firms and a group representing musicians will have their say in a landmark High Court dispute over whether internet companies can be held responsible for illegal movie downloads by users.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS firms and a group representing musicians will have their say in a landmark High Court dispute over whether internet companies can be held responsible for illegal movie downloads by users.

A High Court battle between 34 Hollywood and Australian film and television studios and the internet provider iiNet began in Canberra yesterday, kicking off a case with major implications for piracy laws.

The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, representing the studios, is appealing against a Federal Court ruling that iiNet had not authorised its customers to break copyright laws.

In a sign of the potentially wide impacts of the case, the court yesterday allowed a bid from the Communications Alliance and the Australasian Performing Right Association to appear before the court.

This decision paves the way for the Communications Alliance, which represents telcos including Telstra and Optus, to argue against the studios' push to make internet companies liable for online piracy. In a submission to the Court, the Alliance said overturning the Federal Court's ruling would have a "very significant negative impact" on the industry.

The Australasian Performing Right Association is a body that enforces property rights on behalf of musicians, which is backing the film industry's bid to to overturn the ruling.

The studios, headed by Village Roadshow, have been arguing internet service providers should be held responsible for illegal video downloads by their customers since 2008.

Counsel representing the studios, Tony Bannon, argued that iiNet authorised the copyright breaches by failing to act on information that showed their customers were downloading movies illegally.

"We do object to the fact that they chose to do nothing," Mr Bannon told the court.

iiNet has argued that enforcing the studios' property rights is not its responsibility, and it would be impractical and too costly to act against every allegation that its customers had engaged in piracy.

The case is set to continue today.


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