Australian Court Rejects Dallas Buyers Club Studio's Attempt at Speculative Invoicing

Says Internet users who download the film illegally can only be asked to pay the cost of a legal download.


Dallas Buyers Club

In the struggle between copyright holders and content pirates, "speculative invoicing" is when copyright holders or their agents find people alleged to be downloading their copyrighted content without permission and telling them to pay massive fines in order to avoid legal action. 

That practice may have been stopped in its tracks in Australia, where a federal court ruled the studio behind Dallas Buyers Club could send speculative invoices only if they limited their charges to the cost of downloading the film legally.  

Reuters reports

In a lawsuit seen as a test of whether the practice will be allowed in Australia, where a third of adults admit to stealing online, the studio behind the triple Oscar winner, Voltage Pictures, wanted iiNet and five smaller Internet companies to hand over the addresses of 4,276 suspected offenders. 

But in an unexpected setback, the Federal Court refused their request, saying it would only make the Internet companies hand over customer details if the producers promised to charge only the cost of buying a copy of the film. 

The judge also ordered the Hollywood producers pay a A$600,000 bond to ensure they keep the promise. 

"It's probably a knockout blow for anyone who thinks they can successfully get into the speculative invoicing business in Australia," said John Stanton, chief executive officer of the Internet industry group the Communications Alliance. 

Several years ago, Internet Service Providers in the U.S. started sending warning letters to customers who were downloading pirated content. The warning letters could lead to escalating but minor reprimands, including throttling the Internet connection of repeat offenders. 

Speculative invoicing certainly packs more of a punch, but the amount of government power needed to enforce copyright privileges, coupled with the minor effect piracy appears to have on creating an environment hostile to creators and traditional copyright owners suggests the solution to "illegal" downloading is to define downward what exactly is illegal—meaning copyright reform not new laws and new rules and powers to enforce them. 

h/t Greg S.

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  1. The only reason to pay for content is convenience. Fuck copyright.

  2. where a third of adults admit to stealing online

    Way to beg the question, Reuters.

  3. If I can only be forced to pay the value of what I illegally downloaded, why would I ever pay for a download?

    1. Convenience, quality assurance, frequent flyer miles.

    2. Care to guess why the RIAA quit suing single mothers and grandparents and teenagers? It’s not because they were too busy swimming in cash from the awards. It’s because the companies they represented cut back their contributions in light of the bad publicity and ineffectiveness of the suits. But the industry changed its tune, too, offering a la carte pricing, direct streaming, and service branding like Hulu or Netflix.

      The downloads are, at best, a loss-leader. At worst they’re a permanent feature. If you want to think of it as shoplifting, it’s vaguely analogous. Some of your product will exit your store without compensation. It’s not a good analogy since you’re only out theoretical money in the case of illegal downloads.

      1. This a secantial point at best. My point is when people steal physical goods, we have punishments that exceed the value of what was stolen. This is, in part, a deterrent mechanism. If the punishment for shoplifting is “pay for the stuff you took.” There would be no logical reason to ever pay for anything because the expected cost of shoplifting is definitely less than the expected cost of paying for it out-right (you have some probably of not getting caught).

        Now, certainly in that scenario the vast majority of people would still just pay like they should. I also am not asserting that online piracy is an exact equivalent of the theft of physical goods.

        1. Copyright violation is civil not criminal. Pr at least was at one time.

  4. “Says Internet users who download the film illegally can only be asked to pay the cost of a legal download.”

    Which if you think about it is exactly what they should owe. Unless it’s Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, in which case by em a case of Foster’s to help them erase the memory.

  5. I enjoyed that movie.

    1. Best part oft that movie is where his girl’s friend says that he’s too good to be true, so he must be gay, and he replies, “Well most days, yes.”


  6. I’d okay that. On one condition. Any copyright turned down to the studios would mean an equally severe punishment for attempting to pirate the public domain. Say 20 years profits should send the right message.

  7. If I can only be forced to pay the value of what I illegally downloaded, why would I ever pay for a download?

  8. Do most ISP’s in the United States even require a court order to turn over information to the RIAA or do they volunteer that to keep on the RIAA’s good side?

    1. +1 “nice little operation ya got there…”

    2. Do most ISP’s in the United States even require a court order to turn over information to the RIAA or do they volunteer that to keep on the RIAA’s good side?

      As the article says the RIAA stopped suing individuals directly. They unofficially deputized the 5 major ISP’s and are only requiring the ISPs boot large scale offenders (usu. via six-strike Copyright Alert System).

      Personal, first-hand experience, implementation and enforcement of the system varies *widely*. Books and older films are virtually *never* enforced. Lower bandwidth connections aren’t seen as a threat. Off-provider/producer ISPs (e.g. AT&T) are more lenient than ISPs that are affiliated with production companies.

      So, yeah, you’re free to contract with your ISP… under the guidance of the RIAA.

  9. I have been on the fence about patents/copyrights since I don’t know enough about either.

    When I see companies trolling their own patents/copyrights it sure makes it easy to choose a side.

  10. I’m not anti-copyright, but I have issues with the implementation. I actually had a really good conversation about the subject with a webcomic artist (J.D. Fraser of UserFriendly) a few years back, and his insight as a content creator was valuable. Those who create – be it music, art, comics, etc. – deserve to get paid for their work, but I’m not sure that the current copyright scheme is the best way to do it.

  11. So we once again find ourselves in the middle of The Great Reason Siesta.

    1. Don’t fret. There will be 12 new stores about Trump very soon.

      1. At least I had no misspellings.

        1. I can only get in my obvious jokes so quickly by sacrificing spelling quality.

      2. Next up: Reason-Rupe poll of millennials regarding Trump! With cameo book plugs from several Reason staff.

    2. Wake me up for the next Trump post.

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