Almost 5,000 Australians accused of illegally downloading the movie Dallas Buyers Club would be asked to reveal their incomes under a Hollywood producer’s plan to seek compensation for piracy.
Voltage Pictures, which won a federal court order in April forcing six Australian internet service providers to hand over details of 4,726 customers who allegedly downloaded the film, has also proposed asking what other films they have shared online.
Details of Voltage’s proposed approach to suspected pirates in coming months were revealed in a court hearing on Thursday after the film company sought the judge’s approval for a draft letter and phone script, according to reports by ZDnet and CNet.
Richard Lancaster, a barrister for the ISPs including iiNet, criticised the film company for overreach, questioning whether its damage claims would rise against those with higher incomes.
Lancaster also said Voltage’s compensation bid did not amount to “a royal commission into end users of the BitTorrent [file sharing] network” and it had no right to ask for people’s download histories.
“This is a case about Dallas Buyers Club the film,” he said. “There should not be this kind of collection of material over the phone.”
Judge Nye Perram indicated he was wary of giving the film company “a blank cheque” to ratchet up compensation claims on suspected pirates.
Perram has asked the firm to detail its formula for weighing up compensation claims, including a licence fee, legal costs and damages based on how many times the film was shared.
Lancaster also said Voltage in its customer approach wrongly assumed piracy had taken place.
“The people on the phone aren’t told, ‘We’ve been given your details in respect to a court order,’” Lancaster said. “They are being told much more firmly, ‘You have infringed and we are going to sue if you don’t settle.’”
Lancaster said the problem of this approach was “among other things, there is the possibility there isn’t an infringement”. He said any of those approached by Voltage could legally challenge the assumption of piracy on the basis that the software used to detect those sharing the film via BitTorrent was unreliable.
The full contents of the draft letter and telephone script filed in court have not yet been made public.
The barrister for Voltage, Ian Pike, told the court the questions would be used to judge whether customers were facing financial hardship and whether they were serial downloaders.
“We are entitled in the letter to assert in reasonably firm terms why we contend there has been copyright infringement,” he said. “Nothing in the letter oversteps the mark. They are perfectly proper questions. We would be criticised if we didn’t ask them.”
Perram said he would decide the case by 15 July.