Friday, February 5, 2010

A change of tack for copyright bullies?

Across the ditch in Oz, the Movie studios have been dealt a nasty blow.

They lost an attempted prosecution against one of the country's largest ISPs, iiNet who, they alleged, was complicit in the illegal downloading of material from various P2P networks.

By not actioning complaints made by the movie studios that would have seen customers disconnected merely on the basis of an accusation, iiNet was itself breaking the law -- according to the copyright holders.

Well clearly an Australian court felt otherwise and told the movie studios that it wasn't the ISPs job to act like a copyright cop, nor was it their job to disconnect customers at the whim of a copyright holder, unless that copyright holder wants to obtain a court ruling.

Of course the movie studios aren't about to run away with their tail between their legs, they're going to appeal the judgment, however word on the street is that they're also reconsidering their strategy in the wake of the court's decision.

A number of commentators and people in the ISP industry have suggested that, having found ISPs to be too hard to bully, Australian copyright holders may opt to follow the path pioneered by their US peers -- and that is to simply sue end-users.

While a large ISP like iiNet has the financial resource and tenacity to stand up to big corporate music and movie publishers, most individuals will capitulate and be forced to pay a penalty dictated by those publishers -- rather than find themselves in court.

In deed, this "copyright bullying" has become rampant in the USA, with most accused simply paying a few thousand dollars to avoid what could be an enormous court-determined settlement that may reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Of course if you do illegally download copyrighted material then you get what you deserve either way but what about those who are falsely accused?

What about the nice family of four who have an unsecured wireless router in the living room which, unknown to them, has been hijacked by some evil little sod parked outside who is illegally sucking down gigabytes of box-office movies?

When the copyright bullies come a knocking and demanding large fists-full of money, what can that family of four actually do?

They could refuse to pay up and take the issue to court but, even if they do prevail, the costs and stress involved could still be enormous.

When the NZ government finally makes its mind up on the legislation that is to replace the ill-conceived and ill-fated Section 92A of our Copyright Act, they need to make certain that innocent folks are protected from big corporations who throw allegations around like water -- in the full knowledge that some folks will just pay up to avoid the heartache.

In the event that an allegation of copyright infringement is found to be false, the plaintiff should automatically be hit with a stiff financial penalty for wasting the court's time and unnecessarily inconveniencing their victim.

Without this protection, it would be easy to see the copyright bullies opting to pick on the weak and those least able to defend themselves -- because that's what bullies do.

Copyright infringement is a crime -- bullying should be too.

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