TORONTO -- In what analysts are calling a "stunning" decision, the Federal Court has ruled against a motion which would have allowed the music industry to begin suing individuals who make music available online.
Justice Konrad von Finckenstein ruled Wednesday that the Canadian Recording Industry Association did not prove there was copyright infringement by 29 so-called music uploaders.
He said that downloading a song or making files available in shared directories, like those on Kazaa, does not constitute copyright infringement under the current Canadian law.
"No evidence was presented that the alleged infringers either distributed or authorized the reproduction of sound recordings," von Finckenstein wrote in his 28-page ruling. "They merely placed personal copies into their shared directories which were accessible by other computer users via a P2P service."
He compared the action to a photocopy machine in a library. "I cannot see a real difference between a library that places a photocopy machine in a room full of copyrighted material and a computer user that places a personal copy on a shared directory linked to a P2P service," he said.
The ruling sent shock waves through the industry and surprised copyright analysts.
"It raises questions of the viability of suing individual users in Canada under current Canadian copyright law," said Michael Geist, a professor at the University of Ottawa specializing in Internet and e-commerce law and technology counsel with the law firm Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt.
Geist, who called the decision "stunning," anticipates it will push the industry to increase its lobbying efforts for copyright reform in Canada.
Last month, the industry association took five Internet service providers to Federal Court, trying to force the companies to hand over the names and addresses of 29 people who allegedly shared hundreds of songs with others using programs like Kazaa last November and December.
The judge denied the recording industry's request, which means the five high-speed Internet providers -- Bell Canada, Shaw Communications, Telus Communications, Rogers Cable and Videotron -- won't have to divulge their client lists.
Without the names, CRIA can't begin filing lawsuits against 29 John and Jane Does who it alleges are high-volume music traders.
They're currently identifiable only through a numeric Internet protocol address and user handles like Jordana(at)KaZaA.
All the ISPs except Videotron have fought the order. Videotron had agreed to comply because owner Quebecor is also concerned about piracy in other parts of its business, which includes newspapers, television, Internet services and CDs.