iiNet in new legal battle against film studios over piracy

iiNet has been thrown back into the courts by rights holders for the film Dallas Buyers Club, with the holders seeking to obtain the details of customers alleged to have illicitly shared the film online.

Two years after defeating the film studios in the High Court, iiNet is back in the Australian Federal Court seeking to prevent rights holders from gaining access to the details of customers alleged to have illicitly downloaded the Academy Award-winning film Dallas Buyers Club.

Dallas Buyers Club LLC has already targeted a number of users alleged to have shared the film over file-sharing programs in the United States, but last month filed a suit against Australian ISP iiNet seeking to get the details of its customers here.

In a blog post today, iiNet's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby said the litigant is seeking the customer details in court, and iiNet would oppose handing over those details.

"It might seem reasonable for a movie studio to ask us for the identity of those they suspect are infringing their copyright. Yet, this would only make sense if the movie studio intended to use this information fairly, including to allow the alleged infringer their day in court, in order to argue their case," he said.

"In this case, we have serious concerns about Dallas Buyers Club's intentions. We are concerned that our customers will be unfairly targeted to settle any claims out of court using a practice called 'speculative invoicing'."

This is the practice that sees customers send intimidating notices demanding a payment of up to several thousand dollars as compensation for the alleged copyright infringement.

Dalby said iiNet is concerned because of the organisation's actions in other countries, and because while the IP address may match up to a specific account, identifying who in a single household might have downloaded the film is harder to determine.

He also said that Australian courts have not tested the case, and if iiNet is forced to hand over the details, it could open the floodgates for rights holders sending threatening letters to internet users in Australia.

"iiNet is concerned that such a development would open the floodgates to further claims by other rights holders, leading to more Australians being intimidated to pay exorbitant amounts in an attempt to avoid improbable litigation," he said.

A first directions hearing has been set down for November 4, 2014, before Justice Nye Perram.

iiNet was victorious against Village Roadshow and other film studios in 2012 in a High Court case where the rights holders failed to convince the court that iiNet had authorised its users' alleged copyright infringement by not acting on the notices of alleged infringement provided to the ISP.

Since then, the rights holders have lobbied the government to change the law and force ISPs to crack down on its users' online copyright infringement. They have found a sympathetic ear in the current Attorney-General George Brandis, who has released a discussion paper looking at moving towards a so-called graduated response system that would see customers receive "education notices" when caught sharing films and TV shows online.

There remains a great divide between the rights holders, consumer groups, and ISPs over the actual system that would be put in place, with ISPs reluctant to become "copyright police", and rights holders reluctant to pay for the cost ISPs would face to enforce copyright on behalf of the film and TV studios.