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Australian Court Severely Limits ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ Online Piracy Test Case

An Australian court has severely crimped the ability of a film rights holder to pursue individuals who may have illegally watched its film online.

In a landmark ruling earlier this year, Australia’s Federal Court said that Dallas Buyers Club LLC and Voltage Pictures could require Internet service providers including iiNet to hand over details of some 4,726 individuals in Australia who had watched the the 2013 movie “Dallas Buyers Club” for free via BitTorrent.

But in a ruling on Friday, Federal judge Justice Nye Perram removed much of the bite of the earlier ruling.

Perram said that Dallas Buyers Club should post a A$600,000 (US$441,000) bond before it could have access to the subscriber data and send letters seeking payment from the alleged copyright infringers.

Perram said that his decision was intended to prevent Dallas Buyers Club LLC from intimidating Internet users and to prevent it from profiting from doing so, a practice known as “speculative invoicing.”

In a previous ruling in May on the same case Perram had required Dallas Buyers Club LLC to show the court the text of the letters it would send, and also show the court the prepared transcript of phone calls its agents might make to the alleged infringers.

“Having had access to what it is that DBC proposes to demand … 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,” Perram said.

He also explained that as Dallas Buyers Club LLC has no legal presence in Australia the courts would have no sanction over the company if it were in breach of its rulings.

The company was understood to be seeking four kinds of payment from the alleged infringers: for downloading and making a permanent copy; a one-off license fee for redistributing the film by uploading it; further damages based on how many films the infringer had stored on their computer; and, reimbursement of Dallas Buyers Club LLC’s costs in pursuing the infringers.

Perram said that he had agreed with payments for downloading and retrieving the cost of the action. But he said that Dallas Buyers Club LLC’s court action also failed because he denied the one-off license cost and penalizing infringers for other movies.

Australia has high levels of Internet piracy and has seen a number of different cases go to court, most of which have favoured the ISPs. The platforms have argued that the film and TV industries in Australia should do more to provide legal alternatives to piracy by setting up online video services that deliver content quickly and cheaply.

Australia now has more than four native streaming video services. In March they were joined by Netflix, which in only a matter of months is understood to have become the market leader.

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