'Dallas Buyers Club' Producers Win Piracy Test Case in Australia

Dallas Buyers Club Still - H 2014
Anne Marie Fox

Dallas Buyers Club Still - H 2014

Owners of the Oscar-winning drama claim 4,700 Australians have illegally downloaded the film online.

The producers of the Dallas Buyers Club have won a landmark anti-piracy test case in Australia’s Federal Court against iiNet, Australia's third-largest Internet service provider.

The ruling, which iiNet can appeal, forces the ISP to provide the producers with contact details for its customers alleged to have pirated the Oscar-winning film.

In a judgment handed down Tuesday (April 7), Federal Court Judge Nye Perram found in favor of Dallas Buyers Club LLC, agreeing that the rights holders should be able to obtain customer information matching the IP addresses of users the company says were illegally downloading and sharing the film online.

Dallas Buyers Club LLC identified 4,700-plus customers of iiNet and its subsidiaries, alleging they used torrent sharing to illegally download the film. The producers will now be able to begin legal action against those customers, which is likely to include issuing letters of demand for breach of copyright. Justice Perram, however, said such letters -- which could demand payment for copyright infringement -- must "first be submitted.[to the court]...for approval." 

That order is designed to stop what’s known as “speculative invoicing," an approach in which companies send intimidating letters to users demanding payment for alleged infringements and threatening severe penalties. Many have questioned its legality. 

iiNet has not yet said if it will appeal the decision. Lawyers for Dallas Buyers Club LLC said outside the court that the judgment was a step toward stamping out illegal downloads.

"Australia is one of the jurisdictions with the highest rate of unauthorized downloading, and this is a first step from a copyright owner to try to change that balance," Michael Bradley of Marque Lawyers said. 

Dallas Buyers Club LLC’s effort follows similar action initiated in Japan in September and in lawsuits filed in 11 U.S. states over a year ago.

The win in the case comes the same week that the Australian parliament debates new anti-piracy laws and Australia’s ISPs introduce new codes of conduct, required by the government, aimed at identifying copyright infringement. The new codes require ISPs to send notices to their customers at the request of rights holders.

In a bid to crack down on online piracy, Australia's Attorney General George Brandis in March introduced site-blocking legislation to parliament. The new laws would allow rights holders to seek an injunction requiring ISPs to block overseas websites that facilitate piracy.

According to research by the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation (IPAF), more than 29 percent of adult Australians admit to being active online pirates, while a 2011 study commissioned by local distributors body, the Australian Screen Association, found that film piracy over the 12 months prior to the study cost the Australian economy $1 billion (AUS$1.37 billion) in lost revenue.