As both the Government and the Courts review the Digital Economy Act at home, yesterday’s ruling by the Australian Federal Court offers a judicial insight into the issues involved – one which should be heeded by decision makers in the UK.
It may have cost iiNet A$6.5 million to achieve, but the Court’s decision will echo internationally. Whatever the wishes of the consortium of movie studios and the Australian Federation Against Copyright theft, the court ruled ISPs cannot be held responsible for the illegal downloading of copyrighted content by their customers.
This is a huge step forward to protecting the privacy of internet communication, and another judicial nod in the direction of the door for industries desperately trying to protect outdated business models through punitive remedies. The ruling does highlight the need to explore how to tackle ‘repeat infringers’ but this requires far more study before legislation will adequately address them.
In the UK, this issue has ramifications for the Big Society. Many providers of free wifi in communities (for example, schools, libraries and pubs) feared they would be unable to offer the service if they were held liable for the activity of unknown users by ISPs either looking to shift liability to 3rd party providers. Equally, ISPs may have simply refused to allow free wi-fi to be offered.
Equally, as an aspiring digital economy, Government needs to focus on facilitating the business models of the future, not using the civil liberties of its citizens as a trade-off against industries protecting their own revenue streams.
The civil liberties argument has been made, the critical technological flaws highlighted and now the role of ISPs has been reaffirmed by a court of the commonwealth. The challenge is now to keep up the pressure in the UK and ensure the Digital Economy Act goes the same way as the Government that created it.