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Copyright police drag Australian ISP iiNet through the courts

Australia's copyright police have used the cover of the internet filtering debate to launch a surprise attack on ISPs, with seven movie houses filing an action against progressive ISP iiNet - claiming it harbours pirates.

The action against iiNet was filed in the Federal Court today by Village Roadshow, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox and Disney, as well as the Seven Network.

The companies want an order forcing iiNet to prevent its customers from engaging in copyright infringement over its network and are expected to claim damages. It's a move that's likely to send a chill through Australian internet service providers who already have their hands full with the Federal government's plans for force them to implement mandatory ISP-level content filtering.

iiNet is one of Australia's largest ISP and no stranger to controversy, with managing director Michael Malone recently volunteering to participate in the internet filtering trials just so the ISP can help point out how stupid the idea is. You don't need to be a conspiracy nut to question the timing of this week's legal action - coordinated by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT).

There's an old saying; my enemy's enemy is my friend. Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, is facing an uphill battle to implement his mandatory ISP-level filtering, which critics say is unworkable and heavy-handed censorship which has the potential to be abused. The plan's conservative supporters in the Senate are already calling for the filtering to be expanded to encompass "illegal" content. ISPs such as iiNet are leading the fight against the plan. iiNet has also publically slammed the federal government's efforts to build a National Broadband Network.

Meanwhile the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft is facing an uphill battle to stop Australians downloading copyrighted material via peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent. AFACT and its supporters want ISPs to monitor their customers' usage and enforce copyright law, a job ISPs say is best left to the police. The head of the Internet Industry Association, Peter Coroneos, has been previously quoted as saying ISPs won't step in unless forced to do so by law.

With the copyright police and the moral minority in the Senate attacking ISPs on two fronts, it forces ISPs to divide their efforts between two fights. Should Conroy get his internet filtering wish, you can bet AFACT will be first in line calling for the plan to be expanded to encompass illegal movie downloads. At this point ISPs will have no choice but to comply, and thus be burdened with the task of censoring what all Australians can do online.

Expect Australia's ISPs to circle the wagons and plan an orchestrated response to this two-pronged attack designed to hit ISPs when they're most vulnerable.

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