The Australian Airbnb hosts facing a jail term have been forced to defend themselves after being found guilty of copyright infringement.
In the High Court in Melbourne on Thursday, the trial judge found that a series of “vague, misleading, and ambiguous” notices to users about “illegal content” were “extremely defamatory” and “inconsistent with good taste” and breached the Copyright Act.
The notices contained a number of inaccurate and misleading claims that “did not make clear that Airbnb hosts were being charged with copyright infringement”.
The court also found that the notices contained “a deliberate and malicious attempt to mislead, confuse and mislead”, and that the content “is likely to cause substantial harm to [the hosts]”.
The trial judge ordered that the offending notices be removed from the Airbnb site and that Airbnb compensate the hosts.
The case was brought by a pair of Australian hosts named Justin and Kate and the case was heard in October, after the host’s Australian company Airbnb was hit by a massive hack that exposed their online presence.
Airbnb said in a statement that it was “deeply sorry” for any harm caused and that it would “vigorously defend” the hosts against any future copyright infringement claims.
The hosts faced a total of $1.1 million in damages and were ordered to pay $8,500 in legal fees.
The host’s lawyers said they had “made a series” of false claims about the hosts’ legal status.
“These are not the actions of someone who’s had a bad experience with Airbnb,” attorney Nick Pramas told the ABC.
“The accused were being accused of a criminal offence, and we’re asking the court to find that this was not the case.”
The judge also found the hosts guilty of two other offences, but noted that he had been unable to reach an agreement with Airbnb over a “substantial amount” of money, meaning that the case could go to appeal.
The judge did not make any order in relation to the hosting companies, but he indicated that the hosts should be fined for breaching copyright law.
He said the Airbnb hosting company was the only one that had made a “reasonable attempt” to remove the content, and was not liable for any damages.
“It’s not fair to expect the hosts to take responsibility for the harm caused by their actions,” he said.
“But if you are willing to accept responsibility for that harm, that’s the only way you can recover.”
Mr Pramass said he expected the hosts would appeal the ruling.
“I think it’s going to be very difficult to defend them,” he told ABC radio.
“If you’re a host and you do something wrong, it is very hard to be found responsible for that.”
They’re a company that was created to be a business, and the only thing they can do is take it on.