ISP forced to hand over details of online pirates

In a first for Australia, a copyright owner has been successful in forcing an internet service provider (ISP) to hand over the contact details of internet account holders of about 4,700 IP addresses that have been identified as having been used to download pirate versions of the movie Dallas Buyers Club.

 

In Dallas Buyers Club LLC v iiNet Limited [2015] FCA 317, the Federal Court entertained a preliminary discovery action by the film’s owners who were after the customer address detail of those customers thought to be engaged in piracy though BitTorrent downloads of the film. The ISPs resisted the handover of private information. However, the Court considered the copyright owner had a significant need to uncover the customer details.

To protect consumer and privacy interests, the copyright owner was required to submit to the Court for review any correspondence it was intending to send to the ISP customers, and to limit the use of the customer information to the specific piracy issue. In particular, the Court was keen to restrict the potential for the copyright holder to engage in the practice of speculative invoicing, which involves sending a demand for a large sum of money in the expectation that a number of the 4,700 will meet the demand in order to avoid the cost of litigation. The Court commented that such a practice may not be legal in Australia in any event.

As a follow on from the decision, the ISP industry has quickly formulated a voluntary code of conduct which is more favourable to copyright holders, and anticipates that ISPs will be required to hand over customer details of regular potential infringers on a much more frequent basis.

 

This article first appeared in Managing Intellectual Property magazine, June 2015.