Clifford Gouldson Lawyers

Dallas Buyers Club Decision Sends a Message, but will it byte!

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Last week the Federal Court of Australia handed down a key decision granting Dallas Buyers Club LLC and Voltage Pictures LLC (the companies that own the copyright in the film Dallas Buyers Club) access to the personal customer information of 4,762 iiNet customers. 

The Court has forced iiNet to supply the customer matching information (names and addresses) for the IP addresses of its users torrenting the Oscar winning film. 

What is torrenting?

Torrenting is the process of downloading a file (blank at the time of downloading) which then leeches bits and pieces of the whole file from seeders (people willing to share bits and pieces of their whole file) all over the world.  The sharing of bits and pieces continues until the whole file is downloaded, filling your blank file.  You then become a seeder, and the process continues with new leechers wanting to pirate a file. 

Torrenting itself can be legal, or illegal, depending on what is being downloaded.  For example if you wanted to download the novel ‘Pride & Prejudice’, that would be a legal use of the torrenting process, because that novel is no longer under copyright.  Torrenting Dallas Buyers Club is illegal.

So what's new?
Claims for copyright infringement aren’t new.  Claims are relatively common all over the world.  Courts everywhere (including in Australia) have regularly awarded compensation for copyright infringement, and at times even jail sentences for infringement activity. 

So why is this decision being referred to as a landmark decision?  It’s because for the first time the Federal Court of Australia has ordered the names and addresses of customers of an internet service provider (ISP) to be handed over to the owner of the copyright which has been infringed.  Given the extensive privacy laws in Australia, this is no small feat. 

Up until now rights owners have been unable to access this sensitive personal information.  It is also a landmark decision because the order for the disclosure of names and addresses has been made before there is any proof that the customer was the person who actually committed the copyright infringement.  Just because an ISP account is in the name of one customer doesn’t mean it was that person who committed the Torrenting activity.  It might have been that person’s son or daughter, friend or other relative.  It might have even been a hacker.

What happens next?
The consequence of these Federal Court Orders is that iiNet customers can expect to receive formal legal demands from lawyers on behalf of Dallas Buyers Club LLC and Voltage Pictures LLC.  Whether or not those demands lead to actual court proceedings remains to be seen, but the potential is there.  The demands are likely to include threats of legal action if compensation being the value of the movie if purchased lawfully, or at least the profit, are not paid.  This dollar amount is likely to be small.  As a result the costs of any court proceedings are likely to be prohibitive. 
Some would say that online piracy throughout Australia has become so widespread and mainstream that many people have wrongly assumed they are somehow protected against claims by rights holders.  This assumption has now been firmly disproved. 

Online pirates have been sent a clear message.  The question is will it byte?

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