Two years ago we had our official launch of the WA Internet Business Association (eGroup) and we were casting around for an inspirational speaker. As the inaugural President, I had one name on my list, the CEO of iiNet, Michael Malone. Anyone in WA would know of his company, that seemed to mop up all our ISPs during the late 1990s and early 2000s, and sweep all before it on the national stage. Ever parochial, people in this State admire the plucky underdog taking on players from the eastern States in their own backyard. Even more impressive, taking on (and beating) all comers from across the globe. Which is what iiNet have just done. Not only for the benefit of iiNet, but (as many have realised) for the benefit of all of us who use the Internet.
But back to Feb 2010 and the eGroup launch. Obviously successful beyond all expectations when he founded the company from his mother’s garage in Padbury in the early 1990s, Michael was asked what kept him going, what else was left to achieve? He explained that what motivated him always was “rolling up his sleeves” and solving a problem, like he had at the moment. Major Hollywood studios and others had brought a class action against iiNet, accusing them of preventing the illegal downloads of movies by their customers. The very next day, Michael (and his Mum) were off to Sydney to hear the outcome of the case. “I can finally talk about this case now”, he said, “as the case is already decided, we will find out the decision tomorrow.” If iiNet are to lose, then those studios will pursue all ISPs and privacy on the Internet will be irrevocably curtailed. How can you blame the ISPs what their customers download on the internet? You may as well blame the electricity companies for providing power to the computers. Or blame the Department of Transport for providing roads that lead to traffic accidents. It’s not that iiNet condone the illegal downloading of movies, any more than the DET condones traffic accidents. But blame lies in the individual breaking the law.
And why would the studios pick on iiNet anyway? The (at the time) third largest ISP in a country at the other side of the world had been chosen to make a test case. Australia has some of the oldest copyright laws in the world, and no doubt the studios thought they could drive a truck through them. How wrong they were. The court sided with iiNet, who also won the Appeal, and then, a few weeks ago, a final challenge at the High Court of Australia (by unanimous decision). iiNet spent $9mn defending itself, and will hope to see some of that money repaid.
ISPs give us the right to download information from the Internet. Governments, or perhaps the major movie studios themselves, need to create an environment on the Web such that honest, law-abiding folks can watch legally, and pay. Much like Apple created the environment for music downloads to go legal. Already, I can watch streaming movies on my computer thanks to Quickflix, or on my TV thanks to Foxtel on Demand – for under $6 per movie. Maybe this is the way to go.
For now, we applaud a plucky local business that stood up to 34 movie studios including Village Roadshow, Warner Bros and Universal, but more than that, stood up for a principle worth fighting for.
Read more about the case