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Dallas Buyers Club reluctant to wait for new anti-piracy code

The firm seeking access to the details of alleged copyright infringers from iiNet and others has said that it is reluctant to wait to see whether the new industry code to crack down on copyright infringement would be a suitable alternative.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Dallas Buyers Club LLC is reluctant to wait for the government-forced industry code to crack down on Australians illicitly downloading TV shows, films, and music, because it is not clear whether the company would be compensated for past infringements.

Dallas Buyers Club LLC's parent company Voltage is seeking access to the account details associated with IP addresses that shared a copy of Dallas Buyers Club over torrent programs since 2013.

Over 4,000 IP addresses have been logged by the company, and it has approached iiNet and Dodo, among others, seeking to chase down the customers alleged to have infringed on the copyright of the film.

The internet service providers (ISPs) are challenging access to the records, arguing that customers will be sent "nasty" letters demanding payment of thousands of dollars in compensation, or be taken to court.

Access to customer details could potentially be made easier for rights holders as part of the government-backed copyright infringement code being developed by ISPs and rights holders.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis have flagged that the scheme would see warning notices sent out to customers alleged to have infringed, and, after a certain amount of notices, that customer's details would be made available to the rights holder for court action.

ZDNet reported on Monday that the code will need to be finalised by Friday. According to evidence introduced by iiNet in the case this week, the draft code will also be released for public consultation on Friday.

Justice Nye Perram indicated that he could potentially be willing to put the Dallas Buyers Club case "in the fridge" until after the new code is in place, but Ian Pike, barrister for Dallas Buyers Club, was opposed to waiting.

He said that governments in Australia have been looking to act on online copyright infringement since 2007, and there is still no indication that a code would be in place.

Perram said he believes the latest attempt might have more success.

"I think the current ministers have ramped it up a bit," he said.

Pike said there is still much uncertainty about whether Dallas Buyers Club LLC would be able to get compensation through the new code.

"What we don't know is what the current proposed code is how it will impact on my client's position, whether it will be retrospective. There are all sorts of uncertainties, which will mean with the greatest respect I wouldn't place too much significance on the issue," he said.

One major issue for the company would be if the government decided to not allow companies to send infringement notices for content downloaded before the implementation of the new code.

Perram suggested that if he does allow Dallas Buyers Club access to customer contact details, he could potentially oversee the drafting of the letters to be sent out to customers.

Pike was opposed to that, and said the letters would be drafted in line with the law and would be "firm but not illegal".

Voltage vice president of royalties Michael Wickstrom gave emotive evidence on Wednesday, arguing that the company has the right to protect its copyright, and said it would avoid seeking to extract payments from people that would likely lead to "bad press" for the company.

"That kind of press would ruin us. If we start proceedings in Australia, you will not pursue handicap, welfare cases, people with mental issues, military," he said.

While the company is seeking compensation for not only the individual cost of each user downloading the film, but also the impact on the film's sale value, Wickstrom said it isn't about the money.

"This is not about the money here, this is about stopping illegal piracy," he said.

"Our greatest fear is not exactly the downloading, but the uploading and sharing. When that [one person] is sharing with 400 to 500 people, what's the point in creating a film?"

Wickstrom said that the letters are not about "scare tactics" but about "facts", and that if Voltage is successful, he will approve the draft letters that will be developed to send out to Australians.

"These people have no right to do this. That's why these letters have a serious tone. You're not just a file sharer; you're an illegal distributor," He said.

iiNet has also sought to confirm whether Dallas Buyers Club LLC owns the copyright and can in this case be given the details of customers alleged to have infringed. Perram indicated that he is interested in this line, but ultimately said the most that would come of it would be for Voltage to be added as a party to the case.

The case continues.

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