Dear Lifehacker, The next season of Game Of Thrones kicks off this Monday and it's one of my favourite shows. Unfortunately, I've had to cancel my $50 subscription to Foxtel due to financial difficulties. I know plenty of Australians watch the show for free by using sites like The Pirate Bay and Kickass Torrents. How likely am I to get fined if I do the same? And does buying the Blu-ray at a later date absolve me of wrongdoing? Thanks, Eye-Patch Contemplator
[Note: The usual caveats about receiving advice from legal professionals apply: if you want a definitive answer, talk to a lawyer!]
As you're doubtlessly aware, Game Of Thrones is one of the most pirated shows in the world with Australians among the worst offenders. This has understandably caused anger at both HBO and its distribution partner Foxtel who aren't in the habit of giving away content for free.
In 2014, Foxtel's head of corporate communications, Bruce Meagher, publicly attacked pirates for downloading Game Of Thrones. He made the familiar "sports car" argument that we've seen from anti-pirate groups time and time again. In short: just because you can't afford something doesn't give you the right to steal it.
While most pirates would argue otherwise, rights holders consider unauthorised downloads of their content to be unmitigated theft. Federal law is a little murky on the issue however; mainly because torrent sites didn't exist at the time most of the legislation was written. This is one of the reasons content holders have been pursuing suspected offenders with lawyers instead of leaving it to the police to sort out.
While online piracy is obviously wrong, getting ISPs to cooperate has been surprisingly difficult. In a landmark judgement in April last year, the Federal Court ordered several internet service providers to hand over the identities of customers to the makers of Dallas Buyers Club who were suspected of illegally downloading the movie. However, the case was eventually thrown out after the rights holders failed to come up with a suitable penalty for offenders.
So where does this leave Australia's Game Of Thrones pirates? For the time being, it seems Foxtel isn't interested in going after individual pirates in court. Instead, they're looking to get file-sharing sites blocked outright in Australia. Over the past few months, a range of rights holders — including Foxtel — have filed legal actions in Federal Court under Australia's tough new anti-piracy laws. The Pirate Bay and Kickass Torrents have both been targeted in separate court applications from the film and music industries.
If these companies get their way, users who attempt to access these sites will receive a message informing them that the content has been blocked by an order of the Federal Court. Hearings for the Foxtel and Village Roadshow applications are scheduled in May, while the music labels' application is due to be heard in June.
With all that said, there are no guarantees that Foxtel won't come after individual pirates eventually. 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 a year prior, 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 that pirate their shows.
As to your second question, not really. Foxtel doesn't receive a cent when you purchase Game Of Thrones on Blu-ray. While it's the right thing to do morally, Foxtel is unlikely to care.
In short, there is currently no legislation in place that would result in a fine for downloading Game Of Thrones. But this is set to change very soon — and your past download history could potentially come back to haunt you.
Incidentally, if you can't afford to pay Foxtel $50 a month, there are cheaper, legal ways to watch Game Of Thrones in Australia. Click here for a rundown of all the options.
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