Ask LH: Will I Get Fined For Downloading Game Of Thrones?

Ask LH: Will I Get Fined For Downloading Game Of Thrones?
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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

Dear NP,

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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  • Only governments can issue fines. Private corporations can only seek damages, and have to prove on the balance of probabilities that you undertook the copyright infringement. What is likely to happen to you, probably absolutely nothing. You may get a letter of demand. If you deny liability and refuse to pay, you may get a few more letters, and that will be the end of it. You don’t have to pay unless you have a court order compelling you to pay. It costs the rights holder money to take the matter to court, and there is a good risk they’ll lose. They rely on you getting scared and stumping up the cash. The moment you make them spend money, you become a less effective target.

  • If you’re worried then stop downloading via torrents. You can download it legally when the season finishes airing next month.

  • We purchased a season pass as soon as it became available via iTunes, now of course we can’t get it until it finishes on Fuxtel, so I get my episodes via “other means” I refuse to get Fuxtel just to have access to one show we like and get smashed with constant adverts for funeral insurance. At least when we get the legit copy we get the better picture and sound not to mention some behinds the scenes stuff. Fuxtel can get bent!

    • There aren’t any ads during Game of Thrones, or any other show on Showcase.

      Other ‘drama’ channels do have a few ads which are annoying but you can fast forward to reduce the pain (slightly) if you record the show.

      • That is true, but you get smashed with adverts just about everywhere else on Fuxtel, we used to have Fuxtel a number of years ago, but gave it up because the advertising simply became to much. I don’t think its right that I pay for TV then get hit with more advertising than free to air TV!

  • Pretty sure if you’re sailing the seven seas and not doing so from a VPN at this point, you’re just asking for trouble. Don’t know if there will be anything coming of this stuff in the future, but better safe than sorry.

  • It’s a bit of chicken and egg here – half the people downloading GoT are only watching it because they can download it. If they couldn’t download it, they wouldn’t be watching it. Another 25% are only downloading it because they could either go to a mate’s place and watch it on Foxtel, but can download it just as easily. If no one ever downloaded it in the first place, half of the people who have Foxtel purely to watch GoT would have never bothered in the first place.

    In short, downloading encourages revenue, almost as much as it detracts from it.

    • Well said Jackson.
      The article incorrectly uses the term theft, which is ignorant as it breaches just about every definition I can find anywhere. It’s copyright infringement. That’s not so hard to get right is it? If writers start making up terms (or propagating incorrect terms), it only makes things more confusing.
      To explain in simple English, a copyright applies for a limited time. Once that time has expired, that item can be freely obtained. It is illogical to call something a theft on one day and not the next (let alone the notion that the original owner still has the product). If you want to be less precise, try mis-using the term in a court of law and watch how quickly you are put into line… I strongly suggest the author tidy up their language to align with legal definitions and dictionary definitions rather than “making shit up” or worse, feigning ignorance about mis-use of specific terms for no benefit.
      However, copyright is part of Australian law.
      According to Wikipedia on the consequences of copyright infringement (who DO get their terminology right),

      “The Copyright Tribunal was established under the Copyright Act 1968, and has certain powers relating to royalties and licensing. It receives operational support from the Federal Court of Australia.”

      While the consequences aren’t clear, the backing by the federal court is clear. I expect that ignoring the letters (as someone else suggested) would result in an escalation and potential conviction.

      I’m not sure why media has lost the plot over infringement vs theft vs the laws,it’s bizarre. Other than some unethical extensions of copyright term (which break the premise of copyright), the law has not changed as far as consequences go. If it has, show me the money.
      Articles like this really don’t help at all, not one bit.

      • Your characterisation of the article is unfair. Not once did I refer to copyright infringement as theft. I pointed out that rights holders often equate it to theft, which is an important part of the discussion.

      • I suspect they use “theft” since it’s a familiar concept that most people can grasp.

        Copyright laws exist as you said to establish ownership of intellectual property. The owner has the rights to retain or sell that IP. Though to make media available and still profitable, a licensing system is set up to grant conditional access.

        The studios might try to argue that it is these licences that have been stolen … though defrauding of their terms and conditions would be more accurate.

  • You’d have to be a complete bloody idiot to be still downloading using torrents with the metadata retention and Dallas Buyers club example showing it isn’t without possible consequences, especially with the availability of options like Foxtel Play for GOT.

  • If you are going to download something illegally then don’t advertise it on the internet! That’s a start. Why don’t you just wait and buy it on Blue Ray or download it via iTunes. There is always the risk of download unwanted material when you use Torrent sites, like Trojans and Worms.

    Personally, is it really worth the risk? On the positive side, if you can’t afford to pay the fine if you do actually get busted then at least you can get free meals on a daily basis in jail…

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