The makers of the Oscar-winning movie Dallas Buyers Club are facing monetary sanctions for the dubious tactics used in their ongoing crackdown on BitTorrent pirates. In California, a local resident is arguing that the filmmakers lack any evidence other than an IP-address, while requesting a monetary penalty of $36,000 for their “extortion” tactics.
The makers of the Oscar-winning movie Dallas Buyers Club are displaying some dubious tactics in their ongoing crackdown on BitTorrent pirates. In California, the filmmakers recently asked an accused pirate to submit to a polygraph test, but changed their opinion after he agreed.
Sure you can mail possible pirates, after paying a bond larger than your possible profits
iiNet, the second biggest ISP in Australia, has been a bit of a magnet when it comes to BitTorrent lawsuits. In 2008 they were sued by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) for failing to prevent its subscribers from infringing copyright via Bittorrent, a case it won, as the court found it was not iiNet’s responsibility.
In late 2014, Voltage Pictures – the company behind Oscar winning movie ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ – started proceedings against Australian users it accused of downloading its movie, just as it has in both the US and Canada. The alleged Australian infringements all occurred between 2 April 2014 and 27 May 2014.
iiNet refused to hand over the account details of the 4,726 IP addresses demanded by Voltage, and took it to court, where, in early April, the judges sided with Voltage. However, in a massive blow to Voltage, they required that any letters sent out to people be approved by the court, undermining the key tactic of exaggerating claims in these kinds of cases. Most such cases rely on threatening significant damages at court in order to ‘encourage’ the recipient to settle, but Justice Perram has indicated that the damages could be as low as AU$10 (US$8), although there could be significant court costs as well.
Now iiNet has dealt Voltage another blow, announcing in a blog post:
“If you do receive a letter you may want to get legal advice. iiNet is working with a law firm that has offered to provide pro-bono services for any of our customers”
This would be a major setback to the speculative invoicing model used by Voltage, which relies on the high potential damages, plus the significant cost of defending a case (greater than the settlement demanded) to ensure a steady revenue stream. With the court restricting the intimidating language, and the offer of free legal counsel to defend the cases, it may end up being far more costly for Voltage to pursue claims than they can hope to recoup.
And while iiNet has jumped to the defense of its customers in this way, it may not be alone. The M2 group has also indicated it may provide pro-bono legal assistance in similar cases, although they have refused to commit prior to a court hearing on May 21st when a date for the transfer of customer information will be agreed.
It is not looking like Australia will be a fruitful venue for copyright trolls.
Back in 2012, the Australian High Court ruled that ISP iiNet was not responsible for the copyright infringements of its customers. Stymied by that ruling, many Australian file-sharers breathed a sigh of relief, as Antipodean users are usually amongst the last to get content, forgotten in the long-tail of media distribution.
Conversely, it also meant that they were one of the last English-speaking (and English common-law) countries to see the appearance of so-called ‘Speculative Invoicing’, more commonly known as copyright trolling. However, “Down Under” couldn’t escape forever, and eventually the trolls washed up on the shore, in the shape of mega-troll “Dallas Buyers Club” (DBC).
The model should be familiar to most of our readers. A company (or its representative) joins a BitTorrent swarm, and “observes” a number of peers on the torrent. It then applies for a court order for the ISP to hand over the identities behind all those IP addresses so they can be pressured for cash settlement.
The big question was whether the Australian courts would allow for the discovery of subscriber details but in a decision released just minutes ago the courts said ‘yes’. Letters to be sent out to the 4,726 consumers involved will first have to be approved by the court, a move designed to reduce DBC’s ability to overstate the case and the potential penalties involved.
Following a similar ruling in Canada last February, this is the second time these kinds of restrictions have been placed on Dallas Buyers Club/Voltage Pictures. UK ‘trolls’ are also subjected to the same oversight in their initial letters to consumers but subsequent correspondence flies completely under the radar with no court involvement.
In today’s case the judge also ruled that the privacy of the 4726 accounts should be protected but placed no cap on damages. The precise restrictions and justifications will become clear when the verdict is published later today.
while the company has no real idea of the nature of the people they’re targeting, Wickstrom said his company had limits on who would be pursued for cash demands. According to SMH, the executive said that his company “would not pursue an autistic child, people who were handicapped, welfare cases, or people that have mental issues.”
Some compassion from Voltage perhaps? Not exactly – the company seems more interested in how that would look on the PR front.
“That kind of press would ruin us,” Wickstrom said, adding that “the majority” of piracy was in fact occurring at the hands of vulnerable groups.
If that’s truly the case and any “vulnerable” people inform the company of their circumstances, Voltage stands to make very little money from their Australian venture, despite all the expense incurred in legal action thus far. Strangely, they don’t seem to mind.
“This is truly not about the money here, it’s about stopping illegal piracy,” Wickstrom said.