PHOSITA

Authored by Zack Lee, August 19, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Dallas Buyers Club LLC and Voltage Pictures, the makers of the film Dallas Buyers Club, were stymied – in part – by the Federal Court of Australia in their attempts to obtain compensatory damages from people alleged to have downloaded unauthorized copies of the movie in Australia.

Background

Dallas Buyers Club LLC (DBC) and Voltage Pictures (Voltage), sued several Australian internet service providers (ISPs) to obtain the names and account details of users alleged to have illegally downloaded the movie Dallas Buyers Club. Once in possession of users’ names and accounts, DBC and Voltage intended to send demand letters to the users seeking damages for the alleged copyright infringements. Initially, the Federal Court of Australia ruled that the Australian ISPs had to hand over the users’ information. However, this ruling was stayed pending the Federal Court’s approval of the content of the demand letters, in order to prevent harassment and abuse of the users. The Federal Court decreed that demand letters were not to claim damages of more than what could be realistically recovered in a lawsuit. To that end, DBC and Voltage proposed that the letters to the users include a demand for payment which was calculated from the following:  

(1)   the purchase price of a single legitimate copy of the film,

(2)   a fee for sharing the film with other BitTorrent users,

(3)   a punitive fee for any other infringement of the copyright in any other, unrelated, content that subscribers admit to have illicitly downloaded, and

(4)   an amount that would cover the cost of tracking down users associated with infringing downloads.

Recent Opinion

After reviewing DBC and Voltage’s demand letter, the Federal Court ruled on August 14, 2015, that the proposed demand letter was unacceptable. Specifically, the court refused to allow DBC and Voltage to demand fees from users for sharing the film with other BitTorrent users, which could theoretically multiply the fee thousands of times, as many others may have downloaded the movie once it was uploaded to BitTorrent. The court also refused to allow DBC and Voltage to request a punitive fee for any other infringement of the copyright, as this would be speculative.

Essentially, DBC and Voltage will only be allowed to pursue the purchase price of a single legitimate copy of the movie as well as the amount that would cover the cost of tracking down the illegal downloaders. Additionally, DBC and Voltage are required to pay a $600,000 bond to the court to ensure that they will act in good faith and seek only a reasonable amount of compensation from the users.

U.S. Copyright Infringement

For those of you stateside thinking this ruling allows you to pirate movies or music with impunity, think again. The U.S. Copyright Act provides for statutory damages ranging from $750 to $150,000 for each copyrighted work infringed. In fact, in a case involving similar circumstances between Sony and a college student found to have downloaded and disseminated thirty copyrighted works of Sony’s, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled to reinstate an award of $675,000 in damages.

The $25 for a movie ticket and popcorn doesn’t sound so bad now does it?