Australia's Federal Court is to fast-track its decision in the landmark copyright battle which has pitted Internet Service Provider iiNet against a coalition of film and TV companies.

A ruling on the eagerly watched copyright test case is expected to be made next Thursday (Feb. 4).

The trial of Perth-based Internet service provider iiNet began in the Federal Court last October, finished up late the following month and a verdict wasn't expected until later this year. Or perhaps next. However, Justice Dennis Cowdroy has now indicated that the time has come for a decision.

Under the banner of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), the film industry launched its legal action against iiNet in November 2008 for authorizing copyright infringement by allowing its customers to engage in illegal file-sharing of movies and TV shows on its network.

The case is seen as a compelling test of Australia's copyright law in the digital age. Australia's broadband and communications minister Stephen Conroy has even suggested the government would await the outcome of the case before considering introducing any new legislation -- a "graduated response" policy hasn't been ruled out.

Although the music business sat on the sidelines, the iiNet litigation has been closely followed by industry leaders throughout the world. IFPI chairman and CEO John Kennedy is one such executive. "The Australian government has been willing to engage in the subject [of a "graduated response" policy], has understood the subject and I thought they were going to act. But they'll have to wait until this piece of litigation pans out," he told journalists in a Jan. 21 conference call to unveil the IFPI "Digital Music Report 2010."

"I think [litigation] was the right thing to do," he added, "and I'm looking forward to seeing what the result of that is."

AFACT is suing for unspecified damages and costs, and wants iiNet - Australia's third largest ISP - to terminate the account of users who share copyright-infringing content.

The action was filed in November 2008 by Village Roadshow, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Disney Enterprises, Inc. and the Seven Network, the Australian licensee of some of the infringed works.

When the Court's hearings concluded last November, iiNet's CEO Michael Malone said he was confident of a win, declaring, "We do not, and never have supported, encouraged or authorized illegal sharing or downloading of files in breach of the copyright laws."

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