File sharing and copyright infringement in the work place

Recently, much attention has been drawn to the issue of file sharing and copyright infringement. Legislation has been suggested in many places that targets “pirates” who illegally download and share multimedia such as music and films.

This gives rise to the question - Who is legally responsible for what an employee downloads or shares using a work computer, internet connection or other hardware?

Recently, much attention has been drawn to the issue of file sharing and copyright infringement. Legislation has been suggested in many places that targets “pirates” who illegally download and share multimedia such as music and films.

Under copyright law, the distribution of copyrighted materials without license is illegal, with offenders facing large fines. This gives rise to the question - Who is legally responsible for what an employee downloads or shares using a work computer, internet connection or other hardware? Is it the employee, for committing the offence, or the employer for not properly monitoring the employees actions and allowing the equipment to be used in such a way?

At present, there is no precedent for such an occurrence, however, Roadshow Films v iiNet [2010] (No. 3) FCA 23 declared that, under Australian law, the internet service provider is not responsible for what people use their services for. This means that responsibility is handed to the individuals, or possibly those who own the machines upon which the crimes are committed, potentially making an otherwise innocent employer, liable to legal action.

Steps employers can take

  • Develop a clear set of policies concerning IT usage on both workplace computers and staff laptops
  • Have a workplace policy disallowing the downloading of any music or video files
  • Prohibit the uploading or “seeding” of files from a workplace computer
  • Block websites that allow the downloading of illegal content
  • Monitor the amount of data downloaded over the course of a month

The key lesson to walk away with is that employers should protect themselves when it comes to internet usage and abusage and at the outset have clear policies which reflect behaviours and internet use which the employers considers acceptable. The tightening up of key IT policies will go a long way to protect the employer from the employees illegal acts.

* PCC Lawyers are a team of employment practitioners based in Sydney, with many years of combined knowledge and experience in workplace law, industrial relations, workplace investigations and training.  They provide a high standard of excellence and an exceptional level of personal service to a variety of clients in the Sydney metropolitan area, Central Coast, regional NSW and interstate.