Hey Lifehacker, I refuse to join Foxtel just for Game Of Thrones so I'm downloading Season 5 via Kickass Torrents and will buy the Blu-ray when it comes out. However, with all the legal activity around Dallas Buyers Club I'm starting to really worry. What might happen to me if I'm caught? And what can I do to cover my tracks? Thanks, Nervous Pirate
Obligatory caveat: We don't pretend to be lawyers and individuals are ultimately responsible for their own decisions. Now, onto your question!
As you're doubtlessly aware, HBO's Game Of Thrones is one of the most frequently downloaded programmes in the world with Australia among the top pirating nations. This has understandably caused anger at both HBO and its distribution partner Foxtel.
Last year, Foxtel's head of corporate communications, Bruce Meagher, publicly attacked pirates for downloading Game Of Thrones. He made the familiar argument that if you can't afford a sports car you shouldn’t try and steal one just because you can.
Meagher's phrasing here is key — while most pirates would argue otherwise, rights holders consider unauthorised downloads of their content to be unmitigated theft. Make no mistake; if they can punish individuals for piracy they will surely do so to the full extent of the law.
Enter the Dallas Buyers Club decision. In a landmark judgement back in April, the Federal Court of Australia ordered several internet service providers (ISPs) to hand over the identities of customers accused of illegally sharing the movie Dallas Buyers Club. The ruling could potentially see thousands of iNet, Dodo, Internode, Amnet Broadband and Adam Internet customers slapped with legal notices from the studio behind the movie.
At present, nobody knows precisely when these letters will arrive or what they will contain — it could be anything from a cautionary warning to speculative invoicing amounting to hundreds or even thousands of dollars in damages. Or you might just be asked to pay the retail price of around $20.
In any event, the Dallas Buyers Club case is specific to this film and will have no immediate effect on Game Of Thrones pirates. With that said, it could certainly set a precedent. The decision has shown rights holders that they can successfully compel ISPs to comply with preliminary discovery — the process by which relevant details and documents must be shared with the aggrieved party. We wouldn't be surprised if similar cases begin cropping up in the months to come.
To complicate the lives of pirates further, Australian ISPs are currently finalising a copyright notice scheme at the behest of the government. This is an industry code that would essentially force ISPs to get tougher on suspected pirates with a "three strikes" policy similar to the one used in the US. ISPs would also need to assist rights holders that decide to take legal action against persistent infringers. Again, none of this is specific to Game Of Thrones but you can be rest assured that Foxtel will support the strictest of penalties.
Another thing to bear in mind is that rights holders often take their sweet time to launch a case against alleged pirates — the "naughty list" for Dallas Buyers Club related to suspicious activity from over a year ago, for example. In other words, just because HBO/Foxtel aren't making gung-ho declarations right now doesn't mean they aren't actively monitoring IP addresses. (Amusingly, some conspiracy theorists maintain that the leaked episodes of Game Of Thrones were actually a "honey pot" released by the studio to catch pirates in the act. I think we can safely discount this as bogus.)
TL;DR: there is currently no legislation or industry scheme in place that would see you get slugged with a penalty for downloading Game Of Thrones. But this is set to change in the near future and your past download history could potentially come back to haunt you.
If you're concerned about your downloads being detected, you can find plenty of in-depth advice via our guide to torrent privacy. Alternatively, here are all the ways you can legally access Game Of Thrones in Australia. Currently, the cheapest available option is a two-month subscription to Foxtel Play, which will set you back a total of $60. Decide for yourself whether the peace of mind is worth the money.
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