Australian Court Rules Against Linking To Copyrighted Music Online
The Federal Court of Australia has upheld an earlier verdict that ruled linking to copyright music online without permission is illegal.
The issue before a three-judge panel at the Federal Court of Australia was whether Stephen Cooper was legally allowed to post links to copyrighted MP3 files hosted on other servers. Cooper did not host any copyright music on his own site MP3s4free.net, he simply linked to other sites that contained the digital music files.
Upholding a single judge’s ruling from last summer, the appeals panel agreed that linking runs afoul of Australia’s copyright laws, handing a victory to Universal Music Australia and the other major labels that brought the suit in 2004.
“A principal purpose of the Web site was to enable infringing copies of the downloaded sound recordings to be made,” Judge Susan Kenny wrote in her opinion. “The fact that the Web site also carried a warning that some downloading could be illegal did not lessen the force of the invitation.”
Cooper, a retired policeman from the state of Queensland who ran the now-defunct site MP3s4free.net, had argued that he had no power to prevent illegal copying because users could “automatically” add links to the site without his control. He likened his site to Google’s search engine as a mechanism for pointing users to other sites, an analogy that one judge deemed “unhelpful,” in part because Google was not designed exclusively to facilitate music downloads. The opinion also noted that even the search giant is not always free to link to everything it wishes.
Furthermore, Cooper’s “deliberate choice” to set up the site in such a way that he couldn’t restrict access to copyright files when he could have designed it otherwise rendered him guilty of authorizing copyright infringement, the judges said in a multipart opinion.
This is not the first time that linking to illicit material has been deemed illegal. In 2001, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled that a news organization could be prohibited from linking to software that can decrypt DVDs. “The injunction’s linking prohibition validly regulates (2600 Magazine’s) opportunity instantly to enable anyone anywhere to gain unauthorized access to copyrighted movies on DVDs,” the appeals court said. A Dutch court in 1999 reached a similar conclusion.
The Australian judges also agreed with an earlier court ruling determining that E-Talk, the company that hosted the MP3s4free site, and Comcen Internet Services, E-Talk’s parent company, had also broken the law because they did not do enough to stop Cooper from committing copyright violations.
“Rather than withdrawing hosting of Mr. Cooper’s Web site, or otherwise placing pressure on Mr. Cooper to stop his Web site (from) being used for the predominant purpose of copyright infringements, E-Talk sought to achieve a commercial advantage from advertising on Mr. Cooper’s Web site,” Judge Catherine Branson wrote.