Why The Dallas Buyers Club Piracy Letter Won't Matter

There will be thousands of Australians who are now concerned about the prospect of receiving lawyers letters accusing them of downloading the movie the Dallas Buyers Club in April or May of 2014.

Picture: Getty Images/Stuart C Wilson

The Australian Federal Court has ruled that a group of Australian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will have to hand over the identities of some 4726 of their customers. The ISPs involved were Dodo, Internode, Amnet Broadband, Adam Internet and Wideband Networks. Strangely, customers of the major ISPs Telstra, Optus and TPG were unaffected by this ruling and it is not clear why these particular companies have been spared (so far).

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The Dallas Buyers Club LLC who have brought the action to the courts, used technology from German company Maverickeye to detect people who had participated in sharing the film between April 2 to May 27, 2014.

The technology to detect the downloaders worked by participating in the process of torrenting a particular movie file. Torrenting works by every computer being able to share bits of a file between them. As soon as a computer has downloaded a bit of a file, it then (usually) makes it available for other computers to upload. The software from Maverickeye simply took part in this process and recorded the IP address of every computer that was willing to share, or upload, parts of the movie.

Technically, those downloaders who had switched off the upload feature of their BitTorrent software would not have been of interest to the Dallas Buyers Club LLC. They were apparently only interested in those customers how had "made the film available online to other persons; electronically transmitted the film to other persons; and made copies of the whole or a substantial part of the film".

The tactics of the Dallas Buyers Club LLC have been strange to say the least. For a start, the number of infringers that they are pursuing is relatively small. They avoided customers of the major ISPs like Telstra, Optus and TPG. There has been a long held belief that if you want to avoid infringement notices from downloading, it was best to be with one of these ISPs rather than the smaller ones that could be pushed around. The Federal Court judge Justice Pereman ruled that Dallas Buyers Club LLC will have to pay the ISPs legal costs and also the costs of providing the customer information.

But most importantly, any letter that the Dallas Buyers Club LLC wants to send to customers will need to be reviewed by the court. This is very significant because the judge is seeking to avoid what is called "speculative invoicing". This is where a company sends a threatening letter which asks the customer for a large amount of money instead of taking the matter to court. iiNet has argued that the cost of the download to the film owners is of the order of $10 but as in other cases, the Dallas Buyers Club LLC are likely to want to go for fines in the hundreds of dollars. The exact price will be set by the judge and of course this is likely to dampen the overall amount of money it gets from the exercise.

Taking these points into consideration, it is hard to see what Voltage Pictures, the owners of the film, will have gained by this entire process. If the fines are insubstantial, they will not serve as any form of deterrent for future torrents and in any event, Voltage Pictures does not have any particular interest in the more general issue of people torrenting content.

In any event, with the introduction of streaming services like Netflix in Australia, it is likely that torrenting is going to become less of an issue which is what downloaders have been arguing all along. Once the movie industry actually provides a country with a reasonably priced and easily accessed service, the need to obtain content without paying goes away. In the meantime however, they seem intent on creating their own live theatre through the Australian courts.The Conversation

David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Comments

    "The tactics of the Dallas Buyers Club LLC have been strange to say the least. For a start, the number of infringers that they are pursuing is relatively small. They avoided customers of the major ISPs like Telstra, Optus and TPG"

    I am not a lawyer, but maybe they started small just to a precedent which will act as a (dangerous) building block for more cases going forward.

      i2 is right... this case was to establish precedent.

      They went after iiNet (and subsidiaries) as they knew they would put up some sort of defence. iiNet is also a "pure" ISP as in they dont really own or have interests in copyrighted content.

      Regardless of these things.... it goes back to the original point: Precedent.

      The ruling in this case will be referred to for years to come.

      As for building blocks, German-based firm Maverick Eye is teaming up with London legal firm Hatton & Berkeley and preparing to launch one of the largest anti-piracy campaigns ever in the UK.

    The thin edge of the wedge. I was very surprised the author overlooked this. The first instance is about a precedent, not the money. All other instances are the opposite.

    Agreed with the above replies, this case is very obviously about setting a legal precedence.

    As a side note, is anyone else bothered that logging in to Lifehacker takes you to your profile instead of returning you to the page you were on?

    Everyone is saying precedence here, but how does that apply in the future? Surely it will require another court case for any new claims, so the judge can review the letter to be sent?

      Sure, they still have to go to court, but thanks to the established precedence a)there's less risk involved, making bigger and more expensive cases more palatable to attempt, and b) the whole process goes smoother when they can point to existing precedence rather than having to "break new ground".

      Big business likes to minimise risk, which they've done here by persuing a smaller case first to test the waters.

    "Technically, those downloaders who had switched off the upload feature of their BitTorrent software would not have been of interest to the Dallas Buyers Club LLC."

    Can we discuss this part.

    I use utorrent.

    As far as I understand there is no function (preference) to select 0% uploading. I typically set uploading at 5kb (extremely low), and have re-adjusted to 1kb.

    I do not (purposefully) leave a fully downloaded item to "seed" for any significant length of time.

    Would this put me in the "of no interest" category?

    Also, I'd like to mention that I remember a similar hoo-ha occurring about the torrenting of The Simpsons movie, several years ago. I think even some people were successfully sued - but I think that was the original uploader of the torrent. Perhaps that's totally irrelevant, but it seems a little strange that it's not at all referred to in this discussion.

      Any bit of data identified as coming from you would be enough.

      Any upload activity that could be traced to your IP would fall under this. And it's impossible to completely disable uploads on uTorrent. It's akin to hoping not to be stopped for just being "a bit over" the speed limit.

      There are some clients that don't upload anything. But trackers may block them. And the copyright owners could still take action since you are downloading content without a licence.

      P.S: I don't have a pro or anti stance here - just caveat emptor

      There's a way to kill a torrent as soon as it's finished downloading. Don't know it off the top of my head but there's a way.

      Transmission allows you to download with 0 upload enabled

    IMO to challenge any user in court they would have to prove that a particular user has caused certain "loss of business", e.g. uploaded N times the movie. Then they could charge N*ticket_price, but only if they proved that leechers would have bought tickets if they could not get it for free.
    Am I too idealistic? I do not pirate but I know how protocols work. Only BT tracker would know how much a particular user uploaded. Have they hacked the tracker? That would be another liability altogether... Another way to protect BT would be a legalese on the BT tracker saying something to the tune "BY REGISTERING ON THIS TRACKER YOU WITHDRAW YOUR RIGHT TO USE ALL AND ANY INFORMATION OBTAINED VIA PARTICIPATION IN THIS COMMUNITY FROM INCRIMINATING ALL AND ANY MEMBERS...BLAH BLAH BLAH" and they have to tick the box to join.

    Last edited 08/04/15 11:33 am

      yeah this, this is about causing damage or loss of business.
      the $100,000 "fines" etc. could not be substantiated surely.

      Unless you uploaded the file that caused the download of 10,000 copies of the film as this would hypothetically 10,000 unsold/lost ticket sales.

    Do the ISPs have information about which IPs corresponded to which clients back in April and May of last year? How accurate is it?

    If I was to have downloaded said movie, is there a way I can determine when I did? Is it as simple as right clicking and looking at the creation date of the file?

    Dallas Buyers Club can currently be bought on Bluray for $19.98 at JB, and for $12.98 on DVD. It'd be interesting to see what they'd do if you got a letter but proved you own it on disc or some other format.

      Well it was mentioned in this article that they are going after people who seeded it.

    I still don't get how the letters the rights holders normally send isn't a black-and-white case of blackmail.

    So the Federal Court is trusting a private German company that their software is reliable and does what they claim? And then the word of a US movie studio, who hired a private German company for the sole purpose of finding IP addresses?
    Were they paid based on the number of IP addresses they found I wonder? Where is the entire source code for the Maverick Eye software? Why isn't it publicly available?
    A lot of unanswered questions and money changing hands.......

    Perhaps it's time we replace the federal court with a military court in a quick coup. The current old fools are far too out of touch with the reality that these people would otherwise have not seen the movie if Piracy was not available. The studio is receiving free advertising through word of mouth where previously they would receive Nothing.

      In his decision, Justice Pereman stated that he had to accept the claims of Maverick Eye as they were not challenged by iiNet. He specifically points out that iiNet cross examined the wrong witness in relation to the Maverick Eye software. This is how the courts work.

    there are numerous legalese that often cause juror recompense decisions for remuneration to be drastically downsized by judges here in oz. Asbestosis decisions are the largest precedent I can think of in both custom and remuneration. Emotively lamen jurors oft grant large sums when big business do harm to society. Judges in these cases can and do amend to between 1.5 to 3.5 times value of damage to account for both actual and personal damage. The more personal and greater damage the closer to the 3.5 the judge leans. This is just an average of course. What this means is if I can rent dbc for $6 the production company can ask for a minimum $9 as emotional and physical damage is non existent. If the product company can prove you participated in 1000 seeds who acquired said movie it is multiplied so your fine is $6000, but you're so far into the grey area on the multiplier and their level of proof is so minimalised they feel anywhere between *10 and *1000 is legitimate. Legally and to any right thinking mind one person cannot be held responsible for the actions of the FULL mob, which is what these companies are doing in the US. By that logic only one seeder can be sued for each movie downloaded 1m times or you can divide the $6k by those 1m. It can't apply both ways, the law cannot be ambiguous. 1 is logic, and 1 is obviously crazy. Not even touching on the invasion of privacy issues this still fails the high court test numerous times but these companies just hope people won't question, they'll just pay up, and they're right in the US. The vast majority just paid up to the letters. It fell apar when these collection agencies got well greedy and added zeroes to the fees as a percentage to collect larger commissions. So who's robbing who and will we allow it here?

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