Ah, to be Australian. Lower population density, plenty of beautiful places, great weather much of the year, and now a little bit more freedom to use the Internet to download movies illegally.

Hey! And Nicole Kidman is in Moulin Rougue!

OK, so that wasn’t her finest work, and not a great film, but many people disagree with me and at this very moment are trading little pieces of the film across the Internet. Which is illegal. But the Internet is such a wild and flexible place that the question of what exactly is illegal and who’s responsible has gone almost nowhere despite repeated efforts to create an answer. Today, a court ruling in Australia made things a little more clear. Or less. Or, if you don’t live there, had no impact at all.

Here in The States, where the number of people using the Internet and our prominent position in global business and politics makes us ” ;-) more important ;-) “, we’ve been struggling for years to find the right way to protect the rights of people who “own content”. It’s so complicated that even an intellectual property lawyer couldn’t really explain it, and certainly not before you lost interest. But the short is that when you create a movie (or music, or a book, or whatever) you own it and get to decide who can see it/hear it/read it, and under what conditions.

Or more simply: you pay when you go to the movies or buy a book or music, and whoever owns it gets some of that money.

But the Internet makes sharing those things very easy, and services like the original incarnation of Napster, file sharing libraries like The Pirate Bay, and software like BitTorrent make sharing more efficient and exist so that passing files around can be as simple and efficient as possible.

The Pirate Bay went away last year, when courts in several countries shut them down. Napster, of course, was shut down many years ago. The issue of why is still being debated, though. Napster held copyrighted materials for redistribution, and that’s pretty obviously a no-no anywhere with a developed legal system. The Pirate Bay, on the other hand, merely told people where they thought illegal materials might be stored, which if illegal is not the same thing as what Napster used to do. Nonetheless, they’re gone, too.

Bittorent, the best software that’s yet come along to make sharing files easy, has a unquestionably legal purpose, so it continues to exist. But given their non-success to date, people who want to clamp limits on how their property is passed around need somewhere new to go. So why not try to make ISPs, the companies that give us access to the Internet, responsible for policing what we pass around?

Today, at least in Australia, that terribly Orwellian idea has been squashed. Let’s hope that ruling becomes a trend, or we’ll see a whole lot of stories like this one. And I promise: that’s not a business change anyone wants.

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