Dallas Buyers Club case dealt blow by Australian court

Actors Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto attend the "Dallas Buyers Club" UK premiere at the Curzon Mayfair on 29 January 2014 in London, England Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Thousands of Australians illegally downloaded Dallas Buyers Club, starring Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto

An Australian court has blocked a US company from accessing details of customers who illegally downloaded the US movie Dallas Buyers Club.

The company, which owns the rights to the 2013 movie, is seeking compensation from people who pirated the movie.

But the Federal Court of Australia said the company had to pay a large bond before it could access their data.

Many Australians regularly illegally download digital content, such as movies.

'Speculative invoicing'

Dallas Buyers Club LLC (DBC) said it had identified 4,726 unique IP addresses from which the film was shared online using BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file sharing network.

But the Federal Court of Australia said DBC would have to pay A$600,000 ($442,000; £283,000) to obtain customer details.

In a judgement published on Friday, the court also limited any damages DBC could seek from alleged copyright infringers.

The ruling will prevent the company from so-called speculative invoicing.

This is where account holders accused of piracy are threatened with court cases that could result in large damages unless smaller settlement fees are paid.

Untenable claims

In April, the court had ordered internet service providers (ISPs) to give DBC details of customers accused of illegally downloading the movie.

But in May, that order was put on hold, as the court told DBC to show it a copy of the letters it wanted to send to customers.

Friday's judgement said that even after the court had seen the proposed letters, as well as the scripts DBC staff would follow in phone conversations with alleged infringers, it was unclear how much money the company would ask customers to pay.

The judgement said DBC wanted to pursue alleged infringers for:

  • the cost of an actual purchase of a copy of the film
  • a "substantial" one-off licence fee for each infringer on the basis they were engaged in the widespread distribution of the film
  • a claim for additional damages
  • a claim for damages arising from the amount of money it had cost DBC to obtain each infringer's name.

Justice Nye Perram said the second and third requests were "untenable".

Having seen what DBC proposed to demand under the clauses, and the "potential revenue it might make if it breached its undertaking to the Court not to demand such sums, it seems to me that I should set the bond at a level which will ensure that it will not be profitable for it to do so," he said.

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