The firm Dallas Buyers Club, LLC has filed a number of federal copyright infringement lawsuits over Jean Marc Vallee’s Oscar-winning film.
Targeting the Australian market, the company has served discovery orders on Australian internet service providers in an attempt to discover the identities of users it says have downloaded the hit film.
And, on Tuesday, the Australian Federal Court ruled that ISPs must indeed hand over the names and addresses of 4,726 customers who allegedly shared pirated copies of the movie.
Justice Nye Perram approved the request, giving parent company Voltage Pictures access to the names and addresses of Australians whose IP addresses have been connected with illegally downloaded copies of the film. Such a request is known as “preliminary discovery,” and allows Voltage to enlist the court’s help in identifying currently unknown persons prior to suing them.
With the relevant information at its disposal, Voltage Pictures will now be able to send letters to the accused parties.
The case, as things stand, would likely see the alleged copyright infringers invoiced for damages rather than facing a criminal prosecution but some groups, including the ISP iiNet, have concerns over how that will work.
Steve Dalby, chief regulatory officer for iiNet, said:
“We are concerned that our customers will be unfairly targeted to settle claims out of court using a practice called ‘speculative invoicing’”.
Speculative invoicing is nothing new of course, having been used by film studios across the globe to send intimidating letters to suspected offenders, threatening legal action unless large sums of money are handed over.
Voltage has itself been involved in such action before, bringing lawsuits in several different countries and effectively “testing the waters,” in legal terms, to discover what the courts will and will not allow it to do.
So far, there have been no convictions as a result of Voltage’s litigation but the company certainly remains active in terms of sending letters out.
Such communication, alternatively described by some as “copyright trolling,” has a high chance of success as letters are designed to instil fear into recipients who may feel that a relatively small damages payment could be significantly less costly to them that the unknown costs that may or may not ensue should their case ever come up before a judge.
The Los Angeles-based film studio praised the ruling, saying it represented a victory for “the little guys,” including independent filmmakers and musicians. The court’s decision represents a precedent in Australia but is similar in nature to other cases Voltage Pictures has brought before courts in other nations.
The company’s VP for Royalties Michael Wickstrom told Mashable that Voltage Pictures wants to send a warning to consumers who believe it is okay to upload and download their content. Anyone who receives a letter should seek legal counsel, he said.
Wickstrom claims the company is not in the business of speculative invoicing though, saying it is “in the market to produce good films and obtain the royalties from these films.” He agreed that in the past some letters sent to alleged copyright infringers may have been too aggressive in tone:
“In the past there were a few letters that needed to be adjusted, and I did say we need to change that letter as the tone is too aggressive. It has to be legal. We are not stating guilt in any of these letters, but what we are stating is if you are the infringer, there needs to be a settlement amount or a settlement decision.”
He says the company has continued to employ the same methods because they work and litigation has been proven to stop piracy, adding that he is not personally a big fan of issuing threats.
He did, however, say that piracy needs to be stopped or at least discouraged and that the company’s reputation for litigation had been seen to be having an effect on piracy sites where members warned other users away from pirating the company’s titles.
We here at ExpressVPN don’t like the way things are going in this field – tactics designed to scare potentially innocent people into handing over a wad of cash to keep themselves out of court is not the right solution either.
So, all things considered, if you receive a letter from Voltage Pictures remember that it does not mean you are guilty – you should seek legal advice and understand your options before responding.