The movie Village Roadshow delayed releasing in Australia last year is one of the films listed in the company’s landmark court case to block Australians from accessing a piracy website.

Yesterday Village Roadshow, the company behind Mad Max and the distributor for The Lego Movie, filed a case in the Federal Court against 50 internet service providers to block a single website, SolarMovie. The site offers illegal streams of films and TV shows, and Village Roadshow, along with Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Columbia, Universal, and Warner Brothers, has singled out the website to test the site-blocking legislation passed into law in June last year.

The legislation allows rights holders to go to court and obtain a court order to force ISPs to block websites whose primary purpose is copyright infringement.

The case appears to have 50 respondents, but due to all the mergers and acquisitions in the internet service provider industry, the case covers four companies: Telstra, Optus (including Virgin) , TPG (including iiNet and Internode), and M2 (including Dodo).

The titles alleged to be on the website in the court case include: The Lego Movie, Cinderella, Tron Legacy, Spy, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Gambler, This is the End, Spider-Man 2, Jurassic World, Straight Outta Compton, an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and an episode of Shameless.

The choice of The Lego Movie as a test case will raise eyebrows for people who have been following the issue for the past few years. At the time that Village Roadshow was campaigning for the new law and other government-enforced crackdowns on piracy in 2014, Village Roadshow delayed the release of The Lego Movie in Australia by 54 days from February to April, in order to align with Easter school holidays.

The company’s CEO, Graham Burke, subsequently admitted that delaying the film had been a mistake for the company:

“It caused it to be pirated very widely, and as a consequence — no more. Our policy going forward is that all of our movies we will release day and date with the United States.”

Village Roadshow also gave an early viewing of the film to Parliament a month before it was released elsewhere, and George Brandis gave a speech praising Village Roadshow and Animal Logic for their work on the film.

A date for the case to be heard has not yet been set.

If the court makes an order, the ISPs will have 15 business days to disable access to the websites using DNS blocking, IP address blocking, URL blocking or “any alternative technical means for diabling access”. It is believed ISPs favour DNS blocking. Customers would be able to easily bypass DNS blocking through the use of Virtual Private Networks.

The block can be lifted if SolarMovie ceases infringing on copyright, and ISPs will not be in breach of the order if they temporarily cease to block the website for maintenance, system upgrades, or in reaction to a security threat, provided the film studios are notified of the suspension within five hours and the suspension lasts no longer than 24 hours.

The government has been pressuring rights holders to file a case, given the legislation was passed more than six months ago, but it is understood the film studios had been working with the ISPs in order to get the form of the court order right ahead of any case. The order handed down in the first case is likely to set the precedent for how other cases will be resolved, and the method for how ISPs will block websites.

Negotiations between the film studios and ISPs on a system to send warning notices to users have stalled since October, over disagreements between rights holders and ISPs over who should pay the estimated $30-per-notice cost to alert users to stop downloading infringing films, TV shows or music. In interviews yesterday, Burke suggested that rights holders had “shelved” plans for a notification scheme, stating it was too expensive — meaning rights holders didn’t want to pay for the cost of sending out notices. This was news to the ISPs, which had not been informed of the apparent “shelving” of the negotiations until it appeared in the news yesterday.

Burke has said that rights holders will wait for a cheaper, automated version of a notice system to be implemented, but Crikey understands this is not based on anything ISPs have evaluated. One large ISP assessed the cost of implementing an automated notification system three years ago and found the up-front cost of the system would be $3 million.

Brandis had previously threatened that if an agreement between ISPs and rights holders could not be reached, the government would implement a mandatory notification scheme. A spokesperson for the new minister responsible for copyright, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, told Crikey that the government had not had official notification that the negotiations were over.

“While having seen the reports on this matter, the government is awaiting formal advice from stakeholders on the status of the industry’s code. Following such advice, the government will carefully consider next steps, in consultation with relevant parties.”

Village Roadshow is one of the major donors to both the Liberal and Labor parties. In the financial year the legislation to allow site blocking was passed, the company donated $176,000 to the Liberal and Liberal National parties, and $12,800 to Labor.

Foxtel has filed a similar case against Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt, and The Pirate Bay for shows including Wentworth, and Real Housewives of Melbourne.

Update: Added comment from Fifield’s office.

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Peter Fray
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