Underbelly: articles

Underbelly ban in Victoria can't stop illegal internet versions

A COURT Order to ban the controversial new Nine Network crime series Underbelly from being broadcast in Victoria is likely to be defied by many clips of the show being broadcast on the internet.

The explosion of video on the internet, through websites such as YouTube and though BitTorrent file sharing, may allow Victorians to see the drama within hours of its broadcast interstate.

Supreme Court judge Justice Betty King today issued a suppression order preventing the 13-part dramatisation of Melbourne's gangland war to air in Victoria.

Justice King has ordered the removal of all excerpts from the series to be removed from the internet.

While the series will premiere around the rest of Australia tomorrow night, the court fears its showing in Victoria could prejudice a murder trial.

A scan of YouTube today revealed several copies of the promotional clips from the series on the website, despite their removal from Nine's site.

"Legal jurisdiction is typically limited by geography, and by its nature the internet doesn't place much regard to geography."

Mr Vaile believed Judge King may have taken into consideration the possibility that copies of the drama would appear on the internet, but that it would have limited impact on potential jurors.

"(She) may well have decided that something that is not the official publisher's website will not have the same sort of impact," he said.

However watching illegal versions of the underworld drama will not be without risk.

Mr Vaile said people caught uploading clips from Underbelly could face copyright and contempt of court charges.

"There is potential in some circumstances for that order to render people in contempt," Mr Vaile said.

He added that despite the belief that the internet provides anonymity, authorities would be able to track down any culprits.

"There is a false perception around that activity on the internet is anonymous or that's untraceable.

"Unfortunately, the opposite is the case," Mr Vaile said.

"The terms of service (on YouTube and Facebook) don't really offer any protection of privacy or anonymity."

Mr Vaile said website hosts such as YouTube and Facebook could also face charges regarding breach of copyright.

He added that once the clips were on the internet it would be impossible to remove them completely.

"Once it gets out onto the internet, subsequent copying is also a problem," Mr Vaile said.

"The further along it gets the harder it is to put back into the bag."

Soon after Justice King ordered the ban, Nine said it would appeal the decision in the Victorian Court of Appeal.

If the suppression is upheld, the series is expected to be delayed in Victoria until May.

It is not known when Nine's appeal will be heard.

The judge, defence lawyers and prosecutors yesterday were given until today to view more than 10 hours of the drama to determine whether it would affect the trial, the details of which cannot be revealed, also because of a court order.

The suppression order also ordered the removal of The Family Tree link from Nine's Underbelly website which "looks at the evolving relationships between the key characters".

A spokeswoman for Nine said the series would not be transmitted or published in Victoria.

"We can only abide by the order which has been made in relation to Nine," the spokeswoman said.

Justice King today said the murder trial's jurors would be members of the community and the trial had the potential to be prejudiced.

"It is a very difficult situation to potential jurors who may have watched that series," she told a preliminary hearing in the Victorian regional city of Geelong.

"The court has to do the best it can to give a person a fair trial."

The accused murderer's lawyer, Anthony Brand, said that showing the entire series could create problems.

"We have great concerns about the airing in its entirety," Mr Brand said, adding that six of the later episodes were "extremely problematic".

Director of Public Prosecutions Jeremy Rapke QC said the screening of Underbelly would "adversely affect the right to a fair trial of the person charged with murder whose name is presently suppressed".

"It may also adversely affect other pending criminal hearings in this state."

Barrister for Nine, Brendan Murphy QC, told the court that Nine did not know a trial would run at the same time as the series when it commissioned a company to produce Underbelly.

"The difficulty is that it has always been in my client's mind that the Victorian version would be heavily edited," Mr Murphy said.

He argued "an avalanche of material" about the Melbourne gangland war was already available to the public.

But Justice King emphasised that Nine's commercial interests were not the main priority and that the judicial system must allow people to have the right to a fair hearing.

Justice King said the series had an unfortunate aspect in that it tended to corroborate evidence associated with the trial.

She was particularly concerned about the characters and their relationships with each other as already displayed on the Nine website.

Justice King, who viewed the series yesterday, said conversations in the drama would largely be "a figment of someone's imagination".

"It will be difficult for the viewing public to sift through what is factual material and what is fictional," she said.

"The series explains to a large degree why the person was murdered.

"That is really what is the subject for the trial."

Nine said it would broadcast an alternative show, Underbelly: A Special Announcement, tomorrow night in Victoria.

The incident is similar to that of the ABC's 1995 series Blue Murder, which depicted Sydney underworld killings and alleged underworld links with NSW police.

That series was banned for five years in NSW because of its potential to influence a jury in the trial of career criminal Neddy Smith, but was cleared for screening in 2001 after the murder charge against Smith was dropped.

By Darren Osborne and wires
February 12, 2008
The Daily Telegraph