Just when you thought it was safe to download, the film company behind Mad Max: Fury Road and The Lego Movie is actively considering chasing down and sending letters to people who pirate the company’s films.

A sequel to the Dallas Buyers Club court case could be on the way as Village Roadshow CEO Graham Burke confirmed to Crikey that the company was “actively considering” following the lead of Dallas Buyers Club LLC and seeking the details of alleged pirates from internet service providers in court.

In the Dallas Buyers Club case, film company Voltage attempted to gain access to the details of more than 4000 Australian customers from ISPs including iiNet who the company alleged had downloaded the Oscar-winning film over peer-to-peer services. The court eventually declined to hand over the details unless Voltage was willing to put up $600,000 in bond money and agreed to send a specific court-approved letter to customers asking only for cost recovery. The bond was needed because Voltage has no presence in Australia, and Justice Nye Perram was concerned the company would take customer details to send threatening letters, and the court would be unable to intervene.

Crikey exclusively reported last month that after the court refused a peace offering from Voltage, the Dallas Buyers Club decided not to take the appeal further.

While it had been speculated that the result would mean that other film companies would be reluctant to mount similar cases due to the high costs involved, Burke said his company was already tracking users who shared Village Roadshow films over peer-to-peer services and was “actively considering” launching a similar case.

“It’s something we’re having a closer look at. If we were to pursue it, we’d be doing it on the basis of a fair and reasonable approach. I think they have a different approach.”

Burke could not say when a case would be launched but said it was “under active consideration”.

Village Roadshow was the company involved in one of Australia’s most prominent piracy court cases, against iiNet, which went all the way to the High Court in 2011. Film studios had sent iiNet notices alleging that certain users were illegally downloading films, which iiNet declined to pass on. But the High Court found that failing to pass on the notifications did not mean iiNet was authorising the activity.

Burke was this week appointed to chair IP Australia Foundation, renamed to Creative Content Australia. The organisation boasts a number of major Australian film and television studios, including Village and Foxtel, as members, and Burke says the organisation is about “enlightening people about the reality of piracy”.

“Pirates: they don’t employ one Australian. They don’t pay one cent in Australian tax and they make millions of dollars in advertising revenues.”

The name change was needed, he says, because no one understood what IP Australia Foundation meant.

“No one can relate to it. It sounds like some sort of obscure medical condition, IPAF. Whereas Creative Content says what this fight is all about. It’s about protecting creative content.”

He said the main focus would be on educating casual downloaders who might not be aware of the impact of piracy, and this campaign would run in parallel with legal challenges to block piracy websites, due in court next week, and potentially tracking down individual copyright infringers.

“We’re not going to win this war against these criminals unless we work on three fronts: legislation, communication, and availability and price,” Burke said.

Burke admits that three years ago the industry was “stupid and greedy” about the price of content, but said prices had come into line with the US and the UK, and the arrival of streaming services such as Netflix and Stan was having a big impact on piracy in Australia.

Burke confirmed reports several weeks ago that rights holders had abandoned negotiations with ISPs over a system to send warning notices to downloaders to stop infringing, due to the cost to send out the notices. Both ISPs and the federal government confirmed to Crikey at the time that they were not aware that rights holders had walked away from the discussions, but Burke said they had been aware.

“They were continually informed of it. It certainly wasn’t a shock to the government, and it certainly wasn’t a shock to the ISPs. If the cost of sending out notices is somewhere between $15 and $20, it’s impractical. Let’s put it on hold until automation comes. I’m told automation is inevitable.”

Crikey understands one large ISP considered an automated system three years ago, but the cost to build the system alone was estimated at around $3 million.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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