Federal Court of Australia, February 4, 2010
In trial that may be the first of its kind in the world, Federal Court of Australia dismisses copyright infringement complaint brought by U.S. and Australian movie studios against an Australian ISP; although the court finds that defendant’s subscribers infringed plaintiffs’ copyrights using BitTorrent technology, it holds that defendant did not authorize such infringement.
The following summary of the Federal Court of Australia’s order was provided by the court itself.
- In accordance with the practice of the Federal Court in some cases of public interest, importance or complexity, the following summary has been prepared to accompany the orders made today. This summary is intended to assist in understanding the outcome of this proceeding and is not a complete statement of the conclusions reached by the Court. The only authoritative statement of the Court's reasons is that contained in the published reasons for judgment which will be available on the internet at www.fedcourt.gov.au.
- The judgment in this proceeding is necessarily complicated both as to fact and law. It is also lengthy, running for 636 paragraphs and almost 200 pages. I have decided to provide short oral reasons for the judgment which I am presently to hand down. These reasons are not intended to be a substitute for reading the judgment itself which will be accessible online this morning.
- This proceeding raises the question whether an internet service provider or ISP authorises the infringement of copyright of its users or subscribers when they download cinematograph films in a manner which infringes copyright. In Australian copyright law, a person who authorises the infringement of copyright is treated as if they themselves infringed copyright directly.
- This proceeding has attracted widespread interest both here in Australia and abroad, and both within the legal community and the general public. So much so that I understand this is the first Australian trial to be twittered or tweeted. I granted approval for this to occur in view of the public interest in the proceeding, and it seems rather fitting for a copyright trial involving the internet.
- That this trial should have attracted such attention is unsurprising, given the subject matter. As far as I am aware, this trial, involving suit against an ISP claiming copyright infringement on its part due to alleged authorisation of the copyright infringement of its users or subscribers, is the first trial of its kind in the world to proceed to hearing and judgment.
- The 34 applicants who have instituted this claim represent the major motion picture studios both in Australia and the United States. They have brought this proceeding against iiNet which is the third largest ISP in Australia. An organisation known as the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft or AFACT has, on behalf of the applicants, been prominent in the conduct of the claim.
- AFACT employed a company known as DtecNet to investigate copyright infringement occurring by means of a peer to peer system known as the BitTorrent protocol by subscribers and users of iiNet’s services. The information generated from these investigations was then sent to iiNet by AFACT, with a demand that iiNet take action to stop the infringements occurring. The measures which AFACT requested iiNet perform were never precisely elucidated. However, as the evidence at trial indicated, AFACT wanted iiNet to send a warning to the subscriber who was allegedly infringing. If a warning was not sufficient to stop the infringement, AFACT intended that iiNet suspend the internet service of that subscriber. If the subscriber remained unco-operative, termination of the internet service was sought as the ultimate sanction. In addition, or in the alternative, the applicants suggested that iiNet should block certain websites.
- The evidence of infringement gathered by AFACT utilised the BitTorrent protocol, a blueprint for a highly efficient and effective mechanism to distribute large quantities of data. This protocol was created in 2001. It has been used, or more accurately, the constituent parts of the protocol (such as the client, tracker and .torrent files) have been used by those accessing the internet through iiNet’s facilities (the ‘iiNet users’) to download the applicants’ films and television shows in a manner which infringes copyright. I shall refer to the constituent parts of the BitTorrent protocol together as the BitTorrent system.
- The critical issue in this proceeding was whether iiNet, by failing to take any steps to stop infringing conduct, authorised the copyright infringement of certain iiNet users.
- The first step in making a finding of authorisation was to determine whether certain iiNet users infringed copyright. I have found that they have. However, in reaching that finding, I have found that the number of infringements that have occurred are significantly fewer than the number alleged by the applicants. This follows from my finding that, on the evidence and on a proper interpretation of the law, a person makes each film available online only once through the BitTorrent system and electronically transmits each film only once through that system. This excludes the possible case of a person who might repeatedly download the same file, but no evidence was presented of such unusual and unlikely circumstance. Further, I have found, on the evidence before me, that the iiNet users have made one copy of each film and have not made further copies onto physical media such as DVDs.
- The next question was whether iiNet authorised those infringements. While I find that iiNet had knowledge of infringements occurring, and did not act to stop them, such findings do not necessitate a finding of authorisation. I find that iiNet did not authorise the infringements of copyright of the iiNet users. I have reached that conclusion for three primary reasons which I now refer to.
- Firstly, in the law of authorisation, there is a distinction to be drawn between the provision of the ‘means’ of infringement compared to the provision of a precondition to infringement occurring. The decisions in Moorhouse, Jain, Metro, Cooper and Kazaa are each examples of cases in which the authorisers provided the ‘means’ of infringement. But, unlike those decisions, I find that the mere provision of access to the internet is not the ‘means’ of infringement. There does not appear to be any way to infringe the applicants’ copyright from the mere use of the internet. Rather, the ‘means’ by which the applicants’ copyright is infringed is an iiNet user’s use of the constituent parts of the BitTorrent system. iiNet has no control over the BitTorrent system and is not responsible for the operation of the BitTorrent system.
- Secondly, I find that a scheme for notification, suspension and termination of customer accounts is not, in this instance, a relevant power to prevent copyright infringement pursuant to s 101(1A)(a) of the Copyright Act, nor in the circumstances of this case is it a reasonable step pursuant to s 101(1A)(c) of the Copyright Act. The reason for this finding is complicated and lengthy, and is not suitable for reduction to a short summary for present purposes so I shall refrain from attempting to do so.
- Thirdly, I find that iiNet simply cannot be seen as sanctioning, approving or countenancing copyright infringement. The requisite element of favouring infringement on the evidence simply does not exist. The evidence establishes that iiNet has done no more than to provide an internet service to its users. This can be clearly contrasted with the respondents in the Cooper and Kazaa proceedings, in which the respondents intended copyright infringements to occur, and in circumstances where the website and software respectively were deliberately structured to achieve this result.
- Consequently, I find that the applicants’ Amended Application before me must fail. However, for the sake of completeness, I have considered all the issues argued before me.
- I find that the Telecommunications Act would not have operated to prohibit iiNet from acting on the AFACT Notices of infringement. However, as I have already found that iiNet did not authorise copyright infringement, such issue is irrelevant.
- I find that s 112E of the Copyright Act would not have operated to prevent a finding of authorisation of copyright infringement against iiNet. However, as I found on conventional principles of authorisation that the respondent did not authorise copyright infringement, such issue is irrelevant.
- Finally, I find that iiNet did have a repeat infringer policy which was reasonably implemented and that iiNet would therefore have been entitled to take advantage of the safe harbour provisions in Division 2AA of Part V of the Copyright Act if it needed to do so. I have drawn assistance from United States authority dealing with similar statutory instruments in making the finding. While iiNet did not have a policy of the kind that the applicants believed was required, it does not follow that iiNet did not have a policy which complied with the safe harbour provisions. However, as I have not found that iiNet authorised copyright infringement, there is no need for iiNet to take advantage of the protection provided by such provisions.
- The result of this proceeding will disappoint the applicants. The evidence establishes that copyright infringement of the applicants’ films is occurring on a large scale, and I infer that such infringements are occurring worldwide. However, such fact does not necessitate or compel, and can never necessitate or compel, a finding of authorisation, merely because it is felt that ‘something must be done’ to stop the infringements. An ISP such as iiNet provides a legitimate communication facility which is neither intended nor designed to infringe copyright. It is only by means of the application of the BitTorrent system that copyright infringements are enabled, although it must be recognised that the BitTorrent system can be used for legitimate purposes as well. iiNet is not responsible if an iiNet user chooses to make use of that system to bring about copyright infringement.
- The law recognises no positive obligation on any person to protect the copyright of another. The law only recognises a prohibition on the doing of copyright acts without the licence of the copyright owner or exclusive licensee, or the authorisation of those acts. In the circumstances outlined above and discussed in greater detail in my judgment, it is impossible to conclude that iiNet has authorised copyright infringement.
- In summary, in this proceeding, the key question is: Did iiNet authorise copyright infringement? The Court answers such question in the negative for three reasons: first because the copyright infringements occurred directly as a result of the use of the BitTorrent system, not the use of the internet, and the respondent did not create and does not control the BitTorrent system; second because the respondent did not have a relevant power to prevent those infringements occurring; and third because the respondent did not sanction, approve or countenance copyright infringement.
- I will now make my formal orders. For the reasons provided in the written judgment I make the following orders.
- The Amended Application be dismissed.
- Subject to Order 3 and 4, the Applicants pay the costs of the Respondent, including costs thrown away as a result of the Applicants’ abandoning the primary infringement claim against the Respondent.
- Any party or person applying for an order for costs different to that provided by Order 2 is to notify the Court within 14 days in which event Order 2 will be vacated and in lieu costs will be reserved.
- If any application for costs is made as provided in Order 3 the parties and/or persons are to consult and prepare consent directions for the filing of submissions and, if required, for a hearing on costs.
- I publish my reasons.
4 February 2010