Here's Village Roadshow's Plan For Suing Pirates

Image: Kritchanut / iStockphoto

This week, Village Roadshow co-CEO Graham Burke announced the company will start suing Australians who infringe on its copyright. This means anyone who has streamed or downloaded a movie via an illegal pirate site is potentially in its cross hairs.

But when will litigation begin? Who will be targeted? And how much money will you need to pay? We spoke directly to Burke to get some answers.

It's safe to say that the salad days of "free" online content are over. After years of taking piracy lying down, rights holders have declared war on Australian copyright infringers - and they appear to be getting results.

In December last year, Foxtel and Village Roadshow successfully lobbied the government to instruct ISPs to block five popular torrent sites from its customers. Since then, over 60 additional websites have been added to the blacklist, along with 250 related domain names. According to Burke, these sites account for approximately 95 per cent of criminal trade.

However, as we have explained in the past, these anti-piracy measures are laughably easy to circumvent, with most ISPs implementing a simple DNS block. Consequently, Village Roadshow is moving to sue copyright infringers on an individual basis.

Expect to be sued in 2017

Graham Burke - who is an old hand at battling copyright infringement - plans to start pursuing pirates for damages this year. The first infringement notices could be sent out as early as November.

"People who infringe [copyrighted movies] are people who steal - it's theft and it's not a victimless crime," Burke said to Lifehacker. "There needs to be a price to pay. What we plan to do [is] sue people that are stealing our movies. So if someone steals Red Dog and Mad Max Fury Road, we will sue them for the two viewings of those movies, plus some damages."

Burke confirmed to Lifehacker that the penalty being sought will be in the region of $100 to $200 per infringement. This amount will include "damages" incurred by Village Roadshow.

"We're talking the equivalent of a parking fine, but it establishes that [piracy] is theft and is the wrong thing to do."

Burke said the current plan is to mail infringement notices to suspected pirates to inform them of the movie titles they are suspected of stealing. The recipient would then have the opportunity to pay up or plead extenuating circumstances. After assessing the response, Village Roadshow will then decide whether to take action.

Burke wanted to assure our readers that Village Roadshow would withdraw legal action in circumstances where the alleged infringer is suffering from financial hardship or ill health. (This appears to be a spot of preemptive damage control against the inevitable blacklash that occurs when corporations step on society's downtrodden.)

"For people who are in dire circumstances, we will withdraw the action if [they] undertake not to steal in the future," Burke said. "I think most people are pretty honest - you only have to look at the old-fashioned newspaper box where you took the newspaper and put the money in the slot. So we'll be relying on people's inherent honesty."

The case for the courts

Before any litigation can take place, Village Roadshow will need to compel Australian ISPs to hand over the real names and addresses of suspected infringers. Burke said that Village Roadshow would not be engaging in “speculative invoicing”. This was the sticking point that derailed the Dallas Buyers Club court case in 2016, with rights holders refusing to agree on a specified amount for damages. By putting a fixed price on damages, Village Roadshow expects to receive minimal opposition from the presiding judge.

"The information we have at this stage is that we will be able to get the information we need through the courts, and ISPs will be compelled to play ball."

This is significant. By avoiding the mistakes of Dallas Buyers Club LLC (DBC), Village Roadshow is far less likely to have its case thrown out of court. If given the green light to pursue pirates, Burke said it was "probable" that other rights holders will follow Village Roadshow's lead. (You can bet your bottom dollar that Foxtel will be coming after Game Of Thrones pirates, for example.)

Of course, there is still the issue of VPN use, which essentially masks your IP address from outside snoopers. How does Village Roadshow intend to sue pirates when the most prolific offenders are untraceable? Burke admitted this was going to be a problem.

"It appears right now that there is no solution to people who use VPNs," Burke admitted. "But I think technology will develop and there will be ways to detect these users eventually. It's worth noting that people who use VPNs do have to pay for them and 40 per cent of [piracy sites] do have malware, so it's a dangerous place to be in."


Report: Australian Internet Pirates To Be Sued This Year [Updated]

Australian pirates have just been put on notice. The chairman for Creative Content Australia - a consortium of rights holders that counts Foxtel, Village Roadshow and the Australian Screen Association (ASA) among its members - has issued a stern warning to anyone who continues to access pirated content. In short, you can expect to be sued this year.

Read more


Comments

    Burke said that the current plan was to send infringement notices in the mail that would inform the recipient of the movie titles they are suspected of stealing. The recipient would then have the opportunity to pay up or plead extenuating circumstances. After assessing the response, Village Roadshow will then decide whether to take action.Tellingly, pleading innocent isn't an option. In the Village Roadshow court, everyone is guilty until proven... more guilty.

      See thats the trick... why name the movies/shows in the letter.

      Village Roadshow thinks everyone is a pirate thats stolen from them. So they just going to end up sending the most confusing generic letter to everyone and see who admits it, bills them.

      It will be the largest corporate scam letter in Australia history and in the end its going to be the people who can't defend themselves or are gullible... a lot of pensioners and senior citizens are going to get nailed especially if their grandson/child is being sneaky with the grandma's wifi.

      One has to wonder if they'd drop any action the second you send a notice of defence.

      It's not as if companies can decide to just offer fines, so it will be "you owe us damages, pay or we pursue legal action. " Which will be scary to a lot of people.

      One has to think the last thing Village Roadshow would want is someone actually testing this in court.

      A few basic things Village Roadshow would not want tested is the amount of claimed damages, as well as the attribution of who owes. They don't want judgements against them in these area.

    If this idiot spent as much time running his business properly instead of wasting his time with this crap, more people might pay for movies. Get a VPN or seedbox guys. Much safer.

    Rightio! Thank you Village Roadshow for the inspiration for a boycott of any media, or related products that you have the rights to! One less customer.

      LOL Not going to watch any more movies? That's like threatening to hold your breathe.

        Not going to pay for them. There's a difference.

        Village don't make every movie in the world.

    How is this discussing corporate overlord planning to catch people streaming from third party web sites?
    They can't monitor the traffic even without the user having a VPN. Only torrenting they can infiltrate

      You are aware that every single website you visit is tracked and logged by the Liberal government's 'terrorism fighting' metadata laws, no?

      I'll break down how easy it is for them to catch people streaming data:

      1) Village Roadshow identifies one of its films is being offered to steam at some URL (eg: "http://DodgyStreamService.co.ru/blah/madmax.mp4".
      2) Village Roadshow demands access to the metadata collected by the goverment (as many other industry bodies successfully have) for purpose of apprehending pirates accessing this particular URL.
      3) Village Roadshow collects all IP addresses that accessed the URL over the last month, with timestamp of the activity (or really any time up to two years ago, as thats supposedly how long the metadata is retained).
      4) Village Roadshow takes the IP addresses and other evidence to a court, says they'll charge $200 per offence to users, could the judge please grant their request for ISPs to hand over the user details of each IP. Judge agrees based on reasonable evidence and low damages sought.
      5) Village Roadshow sends an infringement notice to every person whom accessed the URL at given date and time.

      You are absolutely not safe unless you stream via a VPN.

      He's not. They can't go after you for that.

    Someone should explain to Mr Burke that he is acting just like a typical corporate thug. Corporations now have a stranglehold on this planet and I'm sorry to say that the So called "salad days" were over a long time ago. "Expect to be sued in 2017" No expect to be harassed in 2017!

    Last edited 02/09/17 8:39 am

    There are a lot more legal hurdles for Village Roadshow to overcome than just compelling ISPs to release subscriber information before they are successfully awarded damages through the courts.

    The principle of account holder = infringer, IP address = infringer, and actual damages amount has yet to be tested in a trial in Australia. Village Roadshow would need to take someone to trial to establish a precedent, however that could go either way and potentially give a ruling that works against them and makes their threats of legal action mute.

    Courts in other jurisdictions have started to acknowledge that the technology used to track downloaders is inaccurate and also doesn't identify the actual person who committed the infringement, only the IP address of the router if the person is behind NAT. In a lot of situations, such as share houses, it could be quite easy for the account holder to demonstrate on the balance of probabilities that it could have been anyone and they have no way of knowing who.

    Graham Bourke is just using the threat of demanding costs from infringers to scare the public into thinking twice before they download something. If he does proceed he will be relying on the same speculative invoicing approach of scaring people into paying. If people refuse, in my opinion Village Roadshow probably won't pursue it, as there is a reasonable uncertainty about the outcome, unless they have a particular case with other evidence, such as the person being on the record as admitting liability.

    I'd really like to see Lifehacker and other media outlets explore these issues in depth and discuss the likely outcomes with a legal expert to challenge the assertions being made by the likes of Mr Burke.

    Last edited 01/09/17 8:38 pm

    Sigh. To quote Whitesnake, 'Here I go again....'

    People who infringe [copyrighted movies] are people who steal - it's theft and it's not a victimless crime

    No, Burke. You only want it to be stealing so you can pursue it as a crime. Infringement is unauthorised duplication. The binary object is never removed from your servers.

    So if someone steals Red Dog and Mad Max Fury Road, we will sue them for the two viewings of those movies, plus some damages.

    So he is seeking speculative invoicing yet further down it says:

    Burke said that Village Roadshow would not be engaging in “speculative invoicing”

    Fair enough. I'm no business executive but I do know double talk and this is exactly it.

    We're talking the equivalent of a parking fine, but it establishes that [piracy] is theft and is the wrong thing to do.

    How? The average Joe knows that piracy is not theft. In fact, Burkes platform seems to be around the "piracy equals stealing" rhetoric.

    I think most people are pretty honest - you only have to look at the old-fashioned newspaper box where you took the newspaper and put the money in the slot. So we'll be relying on people's inherent honesty

    I've actually only seen one those once. It was back in 2009 when I was in LA for a conference. It was the only one I saw.

    Furthermore, it just shows how dated this man's reasoning is.

    For one, I prefer print. I don't read the news papers (not convinced they are even made anymore), but I do read printed books.

    But I am also of a very niche minority. Most people today are digital and either get their news online (as well as other materials).

    Overall, Burke clearly sees his role and relevance has come to an end. And rather than adapt, he is trying to reinsert himself (as well as his business practices) back into the product chain.

    He's like some of those washed up actor/actress characters who still scream "I am still great!" and just sit on their arses expecting the next big role to just come begging for them.

    That's not how the real world works though. And I'm sure Burke knows this and it royally pisses him off.

    The information we have at this stage is that we will be able to get the information we need through the courts, and ISPs will be compelled to play ball.

    Compelled or expected to play your game, Burke? Somehow I feel it's the latter.

    Then again, this is the same man that once said that without theatres the surround communities will be in a bad way.

    It's worth noting that people who use VPNs do have to pay for them and 40 per cent of [piracy sites] do have malware, so it's a dangerous place to be in.

    Er, a lot of the people I know torrent and they have never gotten malware. And on the rare case it was present, it was detected and removed by the installed AV software.

    But I think technology will develop and there will be ways to detect these users eventually

    Er, again, no. The idea of VPNs is to ensure secrecy when communicating over open/public networks.

    This is what has made business possible where traditional methods (such as those Burke is deep seated in) would have failed.

    All I can say is careful what one wishes for. If the average VPN user becomes traceable, it's likely any similar technology Burke's company uses to get the digital files for the projectors will be detected and most likely DDoS'ed to make a statement.

    All up, I don't know why Burke is doing this. The orchestra may have changed but it's still the same old, unwanted song book.

    If Burke honestly thinks that he will become relevant again if he keeps repeating these protest then he's in for a sorry surprise. And that is giving him the benefit of the doubt that he possess the maturity to understand this.

    Unless a person is downloading the movies for profit, copyright infringement isn't a crime. The only restitution available is damages in a civil suit, and Australia doesn't have punitive damages like the US, so they are limited to the cost of the downloaded movie. Further, anyone who pirates on a regular basis nowadays uses a VPN. I'm sure Village will love the publicity it receives when it starts suing old folks for $20

      My local Hoyts charges $10 per ticket - and that has to cover theatre overheads.
      So, make that $5 per person viewing.

      Then find a way to prove I've watched it (rather than saving it to watch later).
      Good luck with that one.

    A few of my own mad ramblings/rants;

    If you download a movie, watch only 20 minutes of it, then go buy a legal DVD of the movie (or Bluray), does one cancel the other out ? Or are you a sudo movie pirate? Why would one do that? For review purposes......
    Do I like this movie - yes I'll buy the DVD when it comes out.

    Secondly are we talking about torrenting movies? Downloading the movie with a peer to peer framework ? Or does the word "infringement" cover any form of seeing the movie without paying. So what about streaming the movie from the internet (not downloading) ? Watching it at a friends house... etc etc

    Thirdly, I can't count the number of times certain online sites and a certain PC magazine has indirectly "encouraged" movie infringement. With articles similar to "How to use a VPN and torrent" or "which is the best VPN to watch certain streaming (overseas) sites".

    Forgive my simple mad ramblings/rants but I find it hard to see how all the blame rests with the pirates. Can the average Joe Blow walk into a bank and start filling sacks with money? No. Well perhaps its because they have adequate security in most cases. Its a shame no one can prevent movie torrenting with the technology already available, for example encrypting the movie in the first place. .......only movie theaters have the decode key.

    I downloaded Alien Covenant even though I OWN the blu ray, because playing blu rays on Windows is like asking to send an email on a fucking fax machine. Even powerdvd refuses to play them at the moment. With shit like this going on why do they think people pirate things. BECAUSE PIRATES MAKE SHIT WORK.

      Most newer laptops dont even come with CD/DVD drives so I guess digital content is the only way to go.

        I hate this move. Blu Ray image quality is just better than anything online video can offer (even pirate rips), most services don't offer 4k or a range of films in 4k, plus surround sound, directors commentary ect.... If you take movies seriously blu ray is the only way to watch one. Just because the plebs don't care about pixelation and shit sound doesn't mean we should kill the disc. 50-100gb movies aren't so easy to just stream or download even with a decent connection. Disks will always be required for some things, 8K is going to push this even more. The only reason disc drives were removed is to take control and ownership away from YOU, it's not a technological solution, it's theft. I still have 2 disc drives in my PC and use them all the time.

      Its called format shifting, which is legal in Australia. You're entitled to a backup copy of any digital data you buy, or a reasonable facsimile of it. A digital copy would be considered a reasonable facsimile.

      What is illegal is breaking DRM to format shift, but as I've said elsewhere, I wonder where you stand if its not YOU breaking the DRM, but enjoying the result..

        Wonder what they do if you have a legal copy that was bought after pirating. I guess there is no way to tell so if the fine is high people could just buy instead.

          Format shifting appears to need to be done by the individual and digital to digital is somewhat a grey area.

            Its all digital to digital. The last non-digital data I can recall was record albums. Everything since (theres probably exceptions) is just bits and bytes being interpreted in one way or another.

            I always remembered the issue because of the "reasonable facsimile" part, which basically allows you to have a copy that's not exactly the same, just functionally the same. I don't think its ever been tested on how far you can go to get that "reasonable facsimile" though. Its just been assumed that ripping from what you own is the line.

            Would be an interesting defence though. It is, as you say, a somewhat grey area.

        You are only allowed to format shit from the copy you have. However that's illegal if you have to break DRM. So downloading another copy is probably easier, but still illegal. I'd say morally it's OK.

          Not necessarily. Originally it was meant to be for software, and you could go to the distributor and ask for a copy. As there was no real way to force foreign based companies to honour it, it then became acceptable to make a copy.

          Because this was all pre-internet, it was assumed that the only way to do that was by ripping from your own version, but AFAIK its never been tested what the limits of getting a copy are.

    The issue for the movie studios is proving that the Internet account holder is the person that downloaded the movie and that there was intent. It's not like they can sue a household - individuals have to be sued. What about all the friends/clients I've given my wi-fi address to over the years, any one of whom could have snagged a torrent or two while they were my guest? Or what if my wi-fi network was cracked and the neighbour's happily torrenting away without my knowledge? What about if I downloaded a movie on my local cafe's free wi-fi - are they then liable? How about when I'm down the library and stocking up on episodes of Game of Thrones on their speedy connection, are they going to sue the Library service? What if my computer has been compromised due to malware and is serving as a relay for torrented films?

    I have another related question: I have Telstra Air set up on my home network. As far as I know, anyone of millions of Telstra customers can connect to my Air WiFi network and download whatever they want. So would get targeted in that situation? Me or the other person? How will they distinguish between these connections?

    I used to religiously buy new movies and TV series from the local DVD stores, amazon etc, had a vast library of disks worth many thousands of $. I started noticing that some disks were becoming unplayable after just a couple of years due to poor manufacturing, and indeed I lost a lot of disks to degradation of the data layer. To replace them I could either hassle the distributor for replacement (tried this with one disk that was dead out of the box, took months to get a replacement), or download a good quality copy, which was simpler and less hassle than dealing with large corporations that really just want your money and don't give a toss if their product fails in a year or two.

    No prizes for guessing which way I went. I figured that after giving these corporations the best part of $10k for what was often pretty mediocre entertainment, that it was time I took a break from wasting my cash. I also made copies of all the disks that still worked, despite that supposedly being illegal at the time, but I felt I had a right to protect my investment.

    I also tried some of the online streaming services here and they were either so slow, too expensive and/or had crap offerings compared to what was available overseas and I realised I would be spending heaps just to watch the few shows/movies I actually wanted to watch, as they were spread across multiple services.

    So, when these guys stop ripping off the general public and make a quality product that lasts and a service where I can get all the shows I want, at the same time they are released overseas and not 6 months later (ever tried avoiding spoilers for 6 months?), then I will subscribe to that service.

    Last edited 05/09/17 11:01 am

    Something to be aware of, the FBI (I think) recently caught some pedo's with a video that had a payload. When it was played it pinged their servers with the local devices IP addy. Hence you are easier to find. Course if you have an end to end encrypted VPN on at your edge or always on at your local machine then should be no worries.

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