ISPs in sights of pirate hunters

Owners of music and other copyrighted material are set to attempt legal action against internet service providers in Australia — and probably shortly in New Zealand — over their customers’ file-trading activities.

Music industry bodies have launched actions against individuals including students at several major Australian universities, says Auckland forensic IT specialist John Thackray.

“They have gone to ISPs and told them ‘this is the volume of [copyrighted] stuff going through your machines’, and the response tends to be ‘yes, we know about that [site] and we know a lot of our users download there’.”

This, says Thackray, lays the ISP open to a charge of profiting from illegal activity — especially when users exceed their data caps through energetic file-trading, directly making the ISP more money than in a normal month. An action has already begun against an ISP in Perth and “it wouldn’t surprise me if it happens in New Zealand”.

He says he has been working in Australia as virtually a full-time job in recent months, assisting investigation of copyright infringement in general, involving any exchange of files.

In a couple of cases this has gone beyond swapping of copyright material and involved activities related to identity theft, such as the counterfeiting of driving licences, Thackray says. He adds there is concern over both the older peer-to-peer trading environments such as Morpheus and Kazaa and the newer “direct-connect hubs” such as dc.p2p.net.nz, which enable local traders to deal with one another without incurring the costs associated with major traffic over an international internet connection.

Auckland ISP Orcon hosts dc.p2p.net.nz, “but we’re not affiliated”, says Orcon managing director Seeby Woodhouse.

Told of the possibility of legal action against ISPs for profiting from illegal activity, he says, “I guess that brings into play some interesting issues. I don’t think [such an accusation] is necessarily reasonable, but this is a question that is slowly being worked out.”

The Perth ISP action is imminent, Thackray said last week.

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