Why Chasing Aussie Pirates Backfired For Dallas Buyers Club

Why Chasing Aussie Pirates Backfired For Dallas Buyers Club

For Voltage Pictures, producers of the movie Dallas Buyers Club, extracting substantial fines from a large number of Australians who downloaded their movie illegally should have been relatively straightforward. They had used the model in other countries successfully and Australia had politicians and a legal framework that supported the protection of intellectual property. So what went wrong?

Today, the rights owners of Dallas Buyers Club finally threw in the towel in their piracy court case against ISP iiNet. Not only did they not get what they wanted from the courts but the plan backfired. Australians are still downloading copyrighted movies and have got much better at covering their tracks.

Why did it go wrong for Voltage Pictures?

Finding the internet addresses of the downloaders was relatively easy. Voltage used a German company Maverickeye to simply monitor people who were torrenting the movie Dallas Buyers Club during two months of 2014.

Armed with this data, they then went to the Australian Federal Court to ask them to force a group of Internet Service Providers, including iiNet, to hand over the real names and addresses of the people associated with those internet addresses.

The Dallas Buyers Club LLC (DBC), representing Voltage Pictures, succeeded in persuading an Australian court to force a group of ISPs to hand over the identities of 4,726 customers.

But it was a pyrrhic victory for DBC. The judge, Justice Nye Perram, imposed conditions on the specific way in which DBC could approach these customers. In particular, DBC would be required to put up a $600,000 bond before receiving the customers names and addresses. DBC was also expected to have any letter they planned to send to these customers approved by the Federal Court.

Justice Perram was concerned that DBC would resort to “speculative invoicing” which DBC had been doing in other countries, threatening ruinous fines unless accused downloaders settled for some commonly unspecified amount.

Unfortunately for DBC, their attempts to get letters approved by the Federal Court met with rejection each time. At one point DBC tried to convince the Court to allow them to approach a small number of the downloaders in return for a reduction of the original $600,000 bond to just $60,000. This was rejected as well, in part because DBC still wanted to charge alleged infringers a so-called “worldwide non-exclusive distribution agreement” which could have been as much as tens of thousands of dollars.

Justice Perram was obviously eager to wrap the proceedings up and put a deadline of the 11th February 2016 on the case unless DBC decided to try a different approach. Today, DBC LLC confirmed it will not be making any further applications regarding the case.


The rise of VPNs and its affect on piracy

Meanwhile, Australians turned to using Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology to cover their tracks when downloading copyrighted material and prevent any future DBC-like company coming after them. VPN usage was also been driven by the allure of superior Netflix content in the US, although some VPN providers have now been blocked by the streaming giant.

There has been an alleged drop in people reporting that they pirate content. Only 16% of those pirating less often claimed it was to do with a fear of getting caught. This was despite the fact that 51% of the people who admitted to pirating knew about the case brought by DBC. 33% of people who are pirating less are doing so because they have access to content through services like Netflix.

The moving value of movies

The irony of the entire story is that it is now possible to watch Dallas Buyers Club online for free. It is unsurprising that people associate little consequence to downloading a movie when the only thing determining the value is the length of time from the movie’s release date. This makes DBC’s quest to make examples of downloaders as a deterrent to others become even more ineffective the more time passes.

Companies like Amazon and Netflix understand the dynamic of distributing content globally at an affordable price. As they increasingly become the producers of this content, companies like Voltage Pictures, and the geolocked distribution mechanisms they rely on to make money, will be forced to change their practices to compete. This is far more likely to happen before they have managed to change the public’s attitude to downloading content.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


  • It’s good to hear Justice Perram maintained a level head throughout the proceedings. Surprised me considering the data retention, TPP, and other movements the government performs to satisfy its major contributors … I mean major movie industries.

  • Soooo, is it worth downloading? Doesn’t seem like my type of movie but all this controversy has me curious.
    Also, well done to Justice Perram for making a logical choice and not knee-jerk reaction based on uneducated guess work; it gives me a little bit of faith in the justice system (justic should be justice, not profiteering).

    • Justice should also not be State/corporate sanctioned revenge.
      If Voltage Pictures (and their lawers) did what Justice Perram asked them to do.. this could have ended differently….

      Speaking of ending… does this open up the possiblty of Voltage Pictures starting this again with a different Juge?

  • Companies like Amazon and Netflix understand the dynamic of distributing content globally at an affordable price. As they increasingly become the producers of this content, companies like Voltage Pictures, and the geolocked distribution mechanisms they rely on to make money, will be forced to change their practices to compete. This is far more likely to happen before they have managed to change the public’s attitude to downloading content.

    Yer it’s because the older generations (ie those that are in control of traditional media companies) are just out of touch and too reliant on business models that reflect physical media. In the interim it’s only good news for consumers – more competition generally means better products at a lower price. When the dust settles tho i’m concerned that there will only be one or two big players in town which means shittier content.

  • At every turn, Justice Perram made very clear the intention of the court to ensure a fair result.
    And at every turn Voltage attempted to circumvent the intention of the court.

    They were told they could get fair restitution so long as they could do one thing. ONE THING: not be pricks about it.

    And Voltage was pathologically incapable of that, despite repeated warnings.

    It really says something about the movie industry that in a landmark case, where they should be on their best behaviour that even with repeated warnings, they were so consumed by their insane greed that they got booted out. It signals very loudly and very clearly that this industry does not know what fairness actually is, and that rights-holders can not be trusted or even respected when it comes to any matter that relates to fairness.
    Such as any matters of copyright.

    • And, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly through this process, judges and magistrates really hate being disrespected. This was always going to go downhill for Voltage, from the first moment they tried to ignore Perram’s instructions.

      • He basically told them, “I can see what you’re doing, I’m not an idiot, so don’t try to get around what I’ve told you like you think I am one,” and then they did it anyway. It really does boggle the mind. Talk about a legal ‘own goal’.

        • They’ve just become a sidebar in every legal practices textbook, haven’t they?
          “In any case, the presiding judge or magistrate is king. In 2015, in a copyright infringement case in Australia, Voltage Pictures was seeking restitution from a number of people who had illegally downloaded their movie, Dallas Buyers Club. Voltage Pictures was well known for speculative invoicing, so Judge Perram laid down a series of restrictions upon Voltage Pictures in order to facilitate a fair result for all parties. Voltage then proceeded to attempt to circumvent Perram’s instructions and were met with increasingly harsh restrictions until they withdrew the case entirely. Aside from very best defined aspects of law, judges often have significant leeway in their rulings; repeatedly disrespecting them will not bode well for either party as it demonstrates a lack of respect not only of the judge, but of the legal system as well.”

          • Exactly. Heh. They didn’t even ‘withdraw’ as such. They ‘withdrew’ in the same way as a drunk ‘withdraws’ when they finish dusting themselves off after a bouncer has tossed them into the gutter and told them to come back when they’re sober.

      • Yeah, thats a fair summary. What people miss is that J. Perram DID allow them to get the key info they were after, if they co-operated. It was DBC’s arrogance and greed that screwed them, not J. Perram’s pro-piracy stance.

        MAjor prop’s to J. Perram’s position though, and sticking to it the way he did. Seeing through their games and calling them out has done the world a favor, and maybe will ‘encourage’ the studios to join the new millennium.

        I’m not holding my breath.

  • Never seen it, never downloaded it, and never will as a direct result of this case. But I have given it 1 star on every rating platform I use. Ditto for Expendables and a few other movies that have tried to supplement box office failure with despicable legal action.

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