'Dallas Buyers Club' Rights Holders War Against Piracy Heads to Australia

Focus Features

Rights holders of the movie have asked the Australian Federal Court to give them the ISPs of people it believes are illegally file-sharing

Rights holders for the film Dallas Buyers Club have taken their legal action against alleged pirates of the movie offshore.

Dallas Buyers Club LLC has applied to the Federal Court of Australia to identify customers of the country's third largest Internet service provider, iiNet, and its subsidiaries, who DBC believes are illegally downloading or sharing copies of their film.

The Australian effort follows similar action reportedly initiated in Japan in the last month and lawsuits filed in 11 states in the U.S. since February.

iiNet chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby said in a company blog on Wednesday that Dallas Buyers Club LLC was seeking iiNet customer details in court, which iiNet would oppose.

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"In plain terms, Dallas Buyers Club wants the names and contact details of our customers they believe may have illegally shared their film," said Dalby, who explained that the practice, known as preliminary discovery, was used in a wide range of cases where the identity of the person or company one might want to take legal action against was unknown. "[We] have decided to oppose this discovery application."

"iiNet would never disclose customer details to a third party such as a film studio unless ordered to do so by a court, [as] we take seriously both our customers' privacy and our legal obligations," he added.

Dalby said that while it might seem reasonable for a movie studio to ask ISP's for the identity of those they suspected of infringing their copyright, this only made sense if the studio planned to use this information fairly — including allowing the alleged infringers their day in court to argue their case.

"In this case, we have serious concerns about Dallas Buyers Club's intentions, and we are concerned that our customers will be unfairly targeted to settle any claims out of court using a practice called speculative invoicing," Dalby said.

Speculative invoicing refers to sending intimidating letters to subscribers demanding payment for alleged infringements, threatening severe penalties if those sums were not paid.

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In some cases in the U.S, Dalby says ISP customers have paid up to $6,132 (AUS $7,000) to Dallas Buyers Club after receiving such letters, to "settle" cases before they go to court. 

Dallas Buyers Club LLC's practice of getting court orders for ISP customer contact information is contentious in the U.S. courts, where it is known as "mass joinder" litigation. As of September 29, the company had filed over 136 lawsuits in 11 states, including Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, targeting 3,700 defendants.

It is untested in Australia.

Dalby said that if Dallas Buyers Club were successful in its discovery, "such a development would open the floodgates to further claims by other rights holders, leading to more Australians being intimidated to pay exorbitant amounts in an attempt to avoid improbable litigation."

He added that iiNet does not condone piracy.

Because iiNet has opposed the discovery action, the federal court will be asked to decide if customer information should be handed over by ISPs named in the action. A preliminary hearing has been set for Nov 8. Dallas Buyers Club LLC has engaged Sydney firm Marque Lawyers to represent them.

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The move opens a new front in the piracy war in Australia. In 2012, iiNet won a long-running case brought against it by the major Hollywood studios and distributors that went all the way to the nation's top level judiciary, the High Court. In that case, the studios failed to convince the court that iiNet had authorized its users' alleged copyright infringement by not acting on the notices of alleged infringement provided to the ISP.

Lobbying by copyright holders and Australia's growing international reputation as one of the top countries in the world for illegal file sharing has seen the Australian government take the first steps in reforming copyright laws.

Research released by the IP Awareness Foundation last week showed that piracy is on the increase, with 29 percent of Australian adults admitting to being active pirates, up from 24 percent in 2013. However, 52 percent of adults agree that more regulation is needed to prevent individuals from downloading or streaming pirated content, according to the IPAF research.