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Copyright cowboys shot down in court

CHOICE welcomes Dallas Buyers Club decision to protect consumers

14 August 2015

CHOICE welcomes today's iiNet Federal Court judgment, which greatly limits the demands that Dallas Buyers Club LLC can make via a speculative invoice.

The judgment prevents Dallas Buyers Club from sending out 'pay-up-or-else' speculative invoices by restricting access to customers' contact details held by iiNet until the copyright owner reduces its claims and pays a $600,000 bond.

"This shows that proper court processes are the way to protect consumers and make sure rights holders don't run riot. This is a great outcome," said CHOICE Policy and Campaigns Adviser Sarah Agar.

"The Federal Court ruling that iiNet will not have to hand over customer details, which would have allowed the owners of Dallas Buyers Club to send letters demanding punishing payments from people they believe have pirated their film, is welcome news for consumers."

"The judge in this case has offered some protection for consumers from a copyright cowboy known for its aggressive and intimidating approach," said Agar.

The judgment comes as the copyright and internet industries seek approval for a draft 'education notice' scheme from the Australian Communication and Media Authority. The scheme has been designed to provide a way for rights holders to gain access to consumers' contact details without going through a contested court application.

"CHOICE maintains the view that aggressive legal action does nothing to address the reasons people pirate. Unlawful downloading comes down to availability, timeliness and affordability," Ms Agar said.

"If rights holders are serious about stopping piracy they should make their films and TV shows available in Australia at the same time as everywhere else in the world and at a fair price."

Consumers can join CHOICE's call for an effective response to piracy at choice.good.do/nofilter.

Background

The Copyright Notice Scheme: what has been proposed?

  • ISPs would have to send up to three letters (notices) to people who rights holders say are illegally downloading their content.
  • Notices are a precursor to possible court action.
  • The notice scheme lets rights owners gain access to customers details.
  • Complaints against notices are heard by a panel of people mostly chosen by industry. 
  • Consumers cannot appeal decisions made by the industry panel. 
  • There is no cap on fines that can be issued by a court.

The system proposed by the industry purports to be educational, but clearly has a focus on facilitating court actions. After a customer receives three notices, a rights holder can compel their ISP to hand over the customer's personal details to make court action easier and faster. There is no limit to the amount of money that a rights holder can seek from the customer. If a consumer objects to any notice received, they can lodge a complaint with a largely industry-controlled body. There is no avenue for appeal if the consumer disagrees with the decision made.

CHOICE research into piracy

The survey was conducted with 1046 participants from the general population from 31 October to 7 November 2014 by iView for CHOICE. Final data was weighted to ensure it is representative of the Australian population as per ABS Census 2011.

  • 67% of Australians never download or stream pirated movies or TV shows. 33% of people have pirated content, 23% of people pirate content at least monthly.
  • 50% of pirates said their main reason for pirating was price, and 41% said it was because they wanted specific content sooner than available in Australia.
  • Most consumers (55%) try to use legal sources first, before searching out pirated copies of content.
  • People who pirate at least monthly are more likely to pay for content through an iTunes or Apple TV subscription. 29% of people who pirate also pay for content through an iTunes compared to 16% of the general population and 12% of people who never pirate.
  • People who pirate at least monthly are significantly more likely than average to go to the movies or cinema. 36% of the general population go to the movies at least monthly; 56% of people who regularly pirate go to the movies at least monthly.
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