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Copyright Update – Dallas Buyer’s Club Proceedings Discontinued

DBC LLC, the company that owns the rights to the 2013 movie Dallas Buyer’s Club, has abandoned its case against Australians that illegally downloaded the movie. DBC was originally seeking that internet service providers such as iinet, the key defendant in the case, provide them with the personal details of over 4,000 customers who had downloaded their movie. DBC reportedly intended to use the details to engage in a process commonly known as speculative invoicing; that is, threatening to prosecute each alleged infringer if they did not pay DBC a certain amount in damages. In particular, evidence was heard that DBC had previously sent aggressive letters to infringers in the US demanding substantial payments. Whilst the court subsequently found in favour of DBC, it ordered that the customer details would only be provided if the damages in any letter of demand issued by DBC was limited to the retail price of the movie and a proportion of DBC’s costs of obtaining the personal details.

DBC proceeded to argue that the amount payable by infringers should include a licence fee and punitive damages based in part on how many other movies an infringer had downloaded.

The court disagreed, finding that licensing distribution of a movie was not an ordinary alternative to piracy and, in terms of punitive damages, that DBC did not have sufficient data to show the extent to which an infringer pirated movies in general, and accordingly could not quantify such damages accurately.

In February 2016 DBC declined to further appeal the decision and the case was dismissed.

Whether or not other rights holders will take up where DBC left off is yet to be seen. It may be more beneficial for a local rights holder to pursue their rights as they would not be subject to a large cash bond to secure their obligations to the court, such as DBC was, being a foreign entity. However, given the Court’s conservative approach in this case, it is unlikely that any rights holders out to profit from pirates will succeed in Australia, and those who are looking to genuinely recover their losses will need to carefully consider whether the costs of this option will outweigh the benefits.

Despite the eventual outcome, arguably, this case was the first instance in which Australian pirates felt they might actually be held accountable for their actions online, or worse, that corporations might be able to bully them into paying excessive penalties to avoid legal action. This fear, in conjunction with the rise of low-cost legal streaming services may eventually see the end of the piracy era in Australia, particularly if another rights holder is game enough to follow in DBC’s footsteps.

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