Tech law update 17 May 2010

P2P operator personally liable for copyright infringement

A US court has ruled that LimeWire, one of the early popular file-sharing sites, induced copyright infringement (Eric Goldman has an excellent summary here of the “intention” issue). While this outcome was really inevitable, what is more relevant is that the Judge also ruled that the founder and sole director, Mark Gorton, is personally liable. This is a clear warning that peer-to-peer operators potentially face personal liability – which some say could have a chilling effect of P2P services.

In New Zealand, section 92B of the Copyright Act provides a limited safe harbour from copyright infringement (see my Computerworld article here) [Note: this part of the Copyright Act is due to be amended] . Whether this would protect a LimeWire-like operation in New Zealand is debatable – s92B does not protect intended infringement.

The US decision also involved liability under trade practices laws. In New Zealand, personal liability can attach to directors of companies under the Fair Trading Act 1986.

50,000 Hurt Locker downloaders to be sued

It is being reported that upwards of 50,000 people are in the process of being sued for pirating the Hurt Locker movie. The movie was leaked to the internet several months before its release, which potentially cost it dearly in ticket revenue. The lawsuits are aimed at generating settlements. Since the first lawsuits were filed in January 2010, about 40% have already settled.

There are no reports of proceedings outside of the US. Class actions in New Zealand are not facilitated by the legal system, and are very difficult to bring (a failing of our legal system) and it is therefore unlikely that proceedings will be brought against New Zealand users due to the high cost of doing so.

iiNet appeal set down

The legal appeal of iiNet’s total victory over anti-piracy group AFACT ‘s claims of copyright infringement liability in Australia has been set down for August this year. As with the first ruling, this appeal will be closely watched – enormous resources are being put into heavyweight IP litigation around the world to determine just where the line should lie for ISP / third-party liability for copyright infringement. Several decisions have recently gone against rights-holders, while others (such as the Newzbins case in the UK and the LimeWire case above) went the other way. The iiNet appeal will be heard in the Federal Court. If iiNet wins again, it is likely that AFACT will seek a further appeal to the High Court of Australia.

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