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Court throws out Dallas Buyers Club piracy case

A scene from the Oscar-winning film Dallas Buyers Club Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox / Focus Features

The Federal Court has dismissed an attempt by a major film studio to access the private details of thousands of iiNet customers who they believed had illegally shared copies of the movie Dallas Buyers Club.

Justice Nye Perram dismissed the Dallas Buyers Club LLC case against iiNet entirely unless an appeal is made by February 16, in a potentially landmark ruling on movie piracy in Australia.

DBC LLC had been attempting to get the names of over 4000 iiNet account holders it was accusing of illegally sharing the Dallas Buyers Club film.

Dallas Buyers Club LLC was originally granted access in April to the 4726 iiNet account holders that have been accused of sharing the film over torrent networks. However Justice Perram put a stay on the order until the studio satisfied him with how they would communicate the alleged infringement to account holders and paid a $600,000 bond.

His biggest fear was a tactic known as speculative invoicing, where the company issues a demand for a sum of money that is often much more than they are actually owed and threaten legal action if the money isn’t paid. The alleged offender usually has no idea what they owe and pay the money to avoid legal costs.

DBC LLC eventually came back in August with their proposed method of communication, including a letter and a telephone call where they would ask for personal details of the offender, including their annual salaries. They would then seek damages for the following:

– The cost of a single copy of the film had it been authentically downloaded;
– A claim for an amount based on each person who had accessed the uploaded film;
– A claim for punitive damages depending on how many copies of non-DBC copyrighted works had been downloaded by each infringer;
– and a claim for damages relating to the costs of obtaining to user’s details.

Justice Perram refused to lift the stay and gave new conditions, including the need to pay a $600,000 bond for access to the account names.
Last week the company claimed it would now only ask for the cost of an individual license fee, as well as damages for its court costs. They also said they would also only pay $60,000 bond in exchange to having access to just 472 names initially.

Each person would have received the same claim amount, rather than claim based on individual circumstance proposed before.

However, DBC LLC was trying to claim costs for a worldwide non-exclusive distribution agreement, which Justice Parram did not agree on, writing in his judgement:

That factual debate was whether any BitTorrent infringers would have sought to negotiate a worldwide non-exclusive distribution agreement with DBC to authorise their uploading activities or whether infringers would have pursued other courses of action, for example, whether instead they would have rented the Film and paid $4.99 for the pleasure. On this factual question, I concluded that DBC’s contention was wholly unrealistic; indeed, I went so far as to describe it as ‘surreal’.

After ruling that the the license fee requests, as well as damage costs were unrealistic, Justice Parram said, ““Some finality must now be brought to these proceedings.”

“What I will do is make a self-executing order which will terminate the proceedings on Thursday 11 February 2016 at noon, unless DBC takes some step before then,” it was then ruled.

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