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iiNet throws doubt on Dallas Buyers Club piracy tracker

An expert witness flown to Australia to explain the software used to track people torrenting Dallas Buyers Club has been unable to explain whether the software accurately pinpoints account holders.

A system administrator for Maverickeye -- the firm used by Dallas Buyers Club LLC to track torrenters of the film of the same name -- could not explain to the Australian Federal Court on Tuesday whether an IP address logged by the system would match up to the actual infringer of the film.

iiNet and several other internet service providers (ISPs) including Dodo are fighting an attempt by Dallas Buyers Club LLC to obtain customer details for IP addresses that were tracked by the organisation on torrents for the film.

iiNet had been receiving letters from the firm involved in the case since mid-2013, before the release of the Dallas Buyers Club film, and it was revealed that the law firm had used German company Maverickeye UG to track IP addresses. According to the company's website, the organisation uses "highly sophisticated software" and "robust hardware infrastructure" to obtain data that has "quality, consistency, and relevance" for the legal system.

In other jurisdictions where the firm has obtained customer details, so-called speculative invoices have been sent to customers demanding thousands of dollars in compensation, or risk facing court action from the firm.

The Federal Court heard expert testimony on Tuesday from Daniel Macek, one of three employees of the German-based company Maverickeye who were tasked by Voltage to track users on a number of torrents of the film.

Macek, who was flown to Australia at Dallas Buyers Club's expense, told the court that he generated a list of IP addresses through the Maverickeye software. There are believed to be around 6,000 IP addresses associated with Australian accounts detected by the company.

On Tuesday afternoon, Macek was grilled by iiNet counsel Richard Lancaster over how the software operates, and could not explain whether the time stamp on the packet capture (pcap) logged by the company was the time that the file was shared with Maverickeye from an Australian IP address.

"Frame 99 shows that the time that is entered into the Maverick schedule is the time of reassembly of the data ... not the time it is transmitted or transferred from the other system. Do you accept this is an aspect of the Maverick software you do not understand and cannot explain about how it receives information from another IP address?" Lancaster asked Macek.

"Do you agree you don't understand this issue? Is it true you don't understand the Maverick software in terms of how it extracts data?"

"I know how the Maverick software works in general," Macek said.

iiNet appears to be making the case that the time that Maverickeye records a hit against an IP address may be different to the time that the data was actually shared, meaning the IP address logged by iiNet at that time might not directly match the actual account linked to it, due to the use of dynamic IP addresses.

"You've agreed that dynamic IP addresses can change minute by minute. One minute, they can be accessing the internet by one IP address, and then the next minute through another IP address," Lancaster said.

Maverickeye workers generally download 10- to 15-minute segments of the films they are tracking over peer-to-peer services and verify that it matches the film, but Macek indicated that only around 16KB of data is downloaded per user.

Lancaster suggested that this may not be sufficient enough to breach Australian copyright law.

Voltage, Dallas Buyers Club LLC's parent company, is not a party to the discovery case, but the company's vice president of royalties Michael Wickstrom yesterday gave evidence that Voltage and its distribution companies would seek compensation from those who are alleged to have infringed.

He said that infringement settlements are like parking fines: Designed to be a deterrent.

"Our main intent with any settlement is to stop the piracy. If it happens to be in monetary settlement, we feel it is a deterrent, like a parking fine," he said.

Lancaster asked Wickstrom how the company could allege that those customers who downloaded the film over peer-to-peer services would have otherwise have paid for the film.

"Generally most would, if the amount is so low, I imagine anyone who is viewing Dallas Buyers Club would have paid a little fee to watch it on a channel," Wickstrom said.

The case continues.