Australian ISP stands up to filmmakers hunting pirates

Innocent people might be bombarded with letters demanding high settlement fees, one ISP said

Jared Leto as Rayon and Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof in Jean-Marc Vallée's fact-based drama, Dallas Buyers Club, a Focus Features release. Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox/Focus Features

Jared Leto as Rayon and Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof in Jean-Marc Vallée's fact-based drama, Dallas Buyers Club, a Focus Features release. Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox/Focus Features

The producer of Oscar-winning film Dallas Buyers Club has taken its hunt for pirates of the film to Australia, after filing a barrage of antipiracy lawsuits in the US. But at least one Australian Internet service provider is pushing back out of concern that the movie producer aims to intimidate its customers into paying excessive damages.

"In plain terms, Dallas Buyers Club wants the names and contact details of our customers they believe may have illegally shared their film," said iiNet, one of the affected ISPs on Wednesday.

In order to identify possible culprits, the company Dallas Buyers Club, which owns the rights to the movie of that name, applied to the Australian Federal Court last week to get five ISPs to reveal details about their customers. It has already used the tactic in the U.S. to identify potential pirates.

When a copyright holder wants to identify people who might have infringed its rights, it tracks down the IP addresses of movie sharers through the services they use. The IP addresses, which are issued by ISPs, are than used to apply to a court to get the personal details of the account holders linked with those IP addresses.

However, iiNet isn't planning to give up any information on its customers and opposed the application."iiNet would never disclose customer details to a third party, such as movie studio, unless ordered to do so by a court," it said.

While iiNet's contract terms require customers not to infringe copyrights, it is still fighting the action.

It might seem reasonable for a movie studio to ask for the identity of a suspect, but only if the alleged infringer would get a fair chance to argue their case in court, iiNet said.

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

That method, which has been used by other companies in the US, involves sending intimidating letters to suspected infringers, demanding money to settle the case out of court, and threatening high penalties if the named price is not paid.

There are also reports from German law firms that Dallas Buyers Club LLC has sent out invoices in Europe too, demanding €1200 (US$1525) to drop copyright infringement claims.

However, the person linked to the IP address is not necessarily guilty of anything, iiNet pointed out. The IP address could have been used by another member of the same household, or someone might have used an open Wi-Fi network from a school or café.

If Dallas Buyers Club wins, that "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," iiNet said.

The Australian Federal Court will now decide if the ISPs should hand over the information. A date for a hearing in the case will likely be scheduled early next year, iiNet said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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