Illegal Downloads - Copyright

Illegal Downloads: Will You Get a Letter from a Copyright Owner?

The Federal Court is making it easier for copyright owners to identify and potentially sue end users who download and share copyrighted material. Most recently, relating to the film ‘Dallas Buyers Club’.

What happened? What’s at stake?

The Court indicated that ISPs (internet service providers), including iiNet and other smaller ones, will need to provide the names and physical addresses of approximately 4,700 customers with IP addresses who downloaded and shared the film.

iiNet argued that the personal information of end users should not be handed over for reasons of privacy and potential misuse by the copyright owner, and that the money potentially recoverable against each infringer would be so small as to make any case against them senseless. However, the Court rejected iiNet’s arguments under the Privacy Act 1988, and suggested that the copyright claims could indeed attract significant damages under the Copyright Act 1968.

Will it turn out to be an expensive night at the movies?

It depends. For an end user who:

  1. downloaded the film once only and did not share the film, damages may be as low as what they would have paid to watch the film had they downloaded it legally in the first place;
  2. facilitated sharing and downloads as a BitTorrent ‘seeder’, significant damages may be awarded to deter similar behaviour by other people.

The first kind of user may be on the hook for as little as $10 (you read correctly), whereas for the second kind it is very difficult to predict the damages that may be awarded, but potentially a great deal more.

Can you expect a threatening copyright infringement letter?

The letter which end users receive will first need to pass before the Court and receive approval to ensure the copyright owners do not intimidate end users into settlement through scare tactics and exorbitant sums (commonly known as ‘speculative invoicing’). iiNet has lauded this safeguard as a major ”win” for the interests of its consumers.

The Court indicated that copyright owners will pay the costs of any copyright proceedings which will serve as a deterrent against pursuing frivolous cases.

These factors will force copyright owners to be selective about which end users to pursue, rather than pursuing all of them in a machine gun fashion.

What is the future for infringing copyright in Australia?

As Bill Lawry says during the cricket, ”It’s all happening here!” There’s plenty afoot aside from this landmark case, including new legislation in the pipeline amending the Copyright Act as well as the new industry self regulating Copyright Notice Scheme Code 2015.

Some wickets are bound to fall. If you choose to click “download” from an illegal source, it could be yours.

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