You Might Not Get Fined For Downloading Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club pirates and torrenters, there may be a shining light at the end of the dark tunnel ahead of you. The studio behind the movie -- and the recent court case against iiNet -- has suggested that you might not necessarily be up for a four- or five-figure settlement fee for your illegitimate download.

In an interview with Triple J's Hack current affairs program, Michael Wickstrom -- the vice president of royalties at Dallas Buyers Club's parent company Voltage Pictures -- said that the widely-shared "eight thousand, 10 thousand, 20 thousand" dollar figures were for infringements in the US, where the infringers had been alleged to be uploading and sharing multiple movies and pieces of content owned by Voltage, rather than just a single copy of a single film like Dallas Buyers Club.

Responding to a question from Triple J's Tom Tilley -- "A lot of people are quite worried. If someone listening right now has illegally downloaded or shared Dallas Buyers Club, should they be worried about getting a letter from you guys?" -- Wickstrom was straightforward, but also moved to allay some fears about the financial penalty the company might move to impose: "...Yes. What I keep telling the public is we are working with our Australian attorneys to come up to an Australian solution to an Australian problem. What works in the US may not work... in Australia. But we are developing a system that becomes a deterrent."

"I just see these different letters... sometimes the press takes the highest amount settlement letter -- but there's a reason for that, it wasn't just one title. Some of the people we go after have a network of hundreds of films that they're uploading, and that's when you're going to see these letters become public where we ask for eight thousand, 10 thousand, 20 thousand, whatever... because this person has every title... this is illegal distribution at its worst."

But the average Australian is not likely to be held liable for anywhere near as substantial a figure, at least from the gist of the vice president's comments to Hack. Wickstrom (emphasis ours): "I don't feel the penalty should be so aggressive with the first-time offender who has downloaded one film. But something has to be done; and what has to be done is a public notice, a notice to stop any infringment, and if it continues there will be action -- like their ISP connection will be shut down, or what have you.

"But it's not always going to be a financial settlement."

This comment from Wickstrom is the strongest statement yet that points towards Australian downloaders being let off comparatively lightly for downloading Dallas Buyers Club. To listen to it in Triple J's Hack podcast segment, skip forward to around the 4:00 minute mark in the SoundCloud link below.

The Voltage Pictures VP also detailed the company's standard process for sending these infringement letters out to alleged downloaders: "During what we call the discovery process, when we get the settlement letter... that's the first letter that goes out to the account holder -- to say there was an infringement, taking place at this IP address.

"And I think it's up to the account holder to find out exactly who was doing that at that address. If I loan the keys to my car to a friend or relative, and that person committed a crime or hurt somebody, I am responsible... and the same applies to a computer, you don't just let anyone have access to your computer, you have to be responsible."

Wickstrom said he hoped to send a message that illegitimate downloading and copyright infringement "truly is impacting film and music. Independent musicians and filmmakers cannot continue to have all the profits eroded and continue as a business model."

"We want to continue as a business, but when I see piracy rates in Australia reach above 50 per cent, that's not a business model that can be sustained. Our stance would be to stop the uploading immediately."

You can listen to the interview in full below.



    "If I loan the keys to my car to a friend or relative, and that person committed a crime or hurt somebody, I am responsible" -- Michael Wickstrom — the vice president of royalties at Dallas Buyers Club‘s parent company Voltage Pictures.

    No, you're not - legally or morally (unless an accident was caused by the condition of your vehicle due to your negligence).

    If I lend my car to my Mother, and she robs a bank - I am not responsible!

    What a stupid thing to say …

      Yeah that part got me as well. He doesn't have a clue what he's on about.

      He almost had me thinking here was someone that was almost talking sense... till that comment and now I wouldn't trust him or band of legal eagles

      I hope this is the guy who takes me to court, if this is any indication of his legal genius.

        Chances are nobody will take you to court. They make their money from the idiots who just pay the scare letter settlements. Unless nobody takes one for the team, then they might start taking individuals to court.

      I think it was more along the lines like if your car gets flashed by a speed camera, you are responsible fore the fine unless you can prove it was someone else in the car at the time. He probably didn't word it very well *shrugs*

        Like that one case where a car owner got sent a speeding fine where the picture showed the car quite clearly on a tow truck

        Last edited 09/04/15 9:29 am

        The difference is, with a speeding fine, there is specific legislation which states that the owner of the car is deemed responsible unless they can prove otherwise. IIRC under copyright law there is no specific provision.

      I was at a family reunion party at a relative's house in the US last year and the host said that he had to take out insurance in case someone got drunk and then caused an accident while driving home intoxicated. He said that as it was his party and he supplied the alcohol he could get sued.
      I was pretty dumbfounded by that, but after seeing what this Michael Wickstrom has said, perhaps this is something that happens in the US?

      There is something in law called: action of the thing.

      The action caused by the thing is the responsibility of the owner, and the operator. So if the car resulted in, God forbid, a death: the driver is charged for murder/manslaughter depending on the conditions and the owner of the car gets dealt a civil fine as a minimum.

      Another example: if someone jumps from the roof onto your car safely and legally parked in the street, you are liable. Sorry and yes it is stupid not just sounds stupid but next time you become MP go change these outaded laws.

        Any specific cases or law you can reference to this?

          Google is not doing a very good job at translation but you can see in the treatise reference to the same concept in various countries:

            Umm foreign law doesn't apply here.

            Last edited 13/04/15 4:03 pm

        What a load of bollocks! There is no such thing as the owner of a car getting a civil fine in such a scenario. The other example is just as ridiculous.

    A fair and reasonable stance. Maybe even too reasonable.

    Anyone thinking these people are the bad guys in this situation is just a morally bankrupt blockhead.

      You sound like a pleasant and reasonable person.

        Are you employed, Lebowski?

          Non sequitur. What does employment have to do with Lebowski's comment?

            No Big Lebowski fans in here then?

            This ass-hat has a history of talking out his ass on this subject. He works in the film industry, I believe, and was probably trying to use the question as a launchpad for some follow-up, "Do you like getting paid for your work?" line of accusatory questioning. He's not worth giving the time of day.

              How rude. It was just a Big Lebowski quote.

                Never seen it. I withdraw my objection, sir =)

                  It's OK though, he used that argument on the 'iiNet lost, what's next' article instead. :P

      Release your shit in Australia in a timely manner. It has been proven again and again we're a nation of people happy to pay, unless you show contempt for us and make us wait for no good reason, then we'll just watch it anyway.

        That's a bullshit pirate deflection. Release gaps have narrowed and often closed in the past few years, but the amount of morally corrupt shitbags downloading stuff is on the rise.

        The funny thing is, I don't know any decent people who download pirated content. And I know a lot of people. These people are not decent in my estimation BECAUSE they don't download stuff - they are just decent people in general, who happen to not download pirated content.

        On the flip side, the people I know who DO download pirated content are not sterling members of society in general. They are usually lazy, apathetic, unmotivated and bitter/resentful of others' success. Not just young people, but right across the age spectrum.

        A person's view on pirating is reflective of their general attitude in life. And I can say with certainty that people with this general attitude, 9 times out of 10, will carry it through life.

          The plural of anecdote is not data. Common fallacy, though.

          pbnj - it has been stated in these blogs that more than 50% of Australian are pirating movies. So you are accusing more than 50% of Australian of being lazy, apathetic, unmotivated, bitter, resentful and no-good.

          Well you are WRONG mister! When VP and other companies release movies to Australia in a timely manner and charge decent prices, then you will get decent payment from decent Australians, and I know for a fact that most Australians are decent.

          In the meantime, I hope all decent Australians boycott ALL VP's movies to ensure you don't receive another cent from any of us. Please publish the entire list of those movies to help us out. And how dare you attack Australians and how dare you take our beloved telco iiNet to court. Why don't you all jump off a cliff and keep your movies in the US! We don't want them here. I have never watched Buyer's Club and NEVER will!

      Do you also argue against fair use and setting reasonable copyright/intellectual property expiry terms? If left unchecked, corporate interests will prevent all and any IP from ever entering the public domain - any reasonable person would find this offensive.

        Public domain is an absurd system that is slowly dying off.

        If a creator wants to retain control of their creation and any monetary gain from their creative work, then it should remain theirs until they sell it or willingly relinquish it.

    If the movie studios are struggling so much from piracy how can they afford so many lawyers?

      If you read the bit about responsibility and his car example. I don't think their lawyers are qualified.

      Maybe the lawyers are hoping to get paid in the settlement.

    I personally see this case as setting a precedent that the industry wants. More than going after the downloaders.

    The thing is, unless someone was part of a massive sharing of the movie. If anything, everyone should be given a link to where they can legally buy the film.

    'Opps, you didn't pay for our movie, here's a link you can buy it on blu-ray, dvd or digital download.'

    The extreme vast majority of people would in that case just buy the damn thing to end it there. It would be a way of nudging people to more legal ways of purchasing content. Have that website, or the ones provided being ones where they can buy future titles.

    There'd be far less resistance to this compared to big fines.

    It'd be a smart approach.

      thats a bit like how microsoft nags you to buy genuine software, rather than sending out fines. good idea

      Getting their legal ducks lined up is what a lot of people suspect.

    I totally agree with most of the comments here about the responsibility of the account holder. It is not their responsibility to be checking who is downloading what. What if it was a guest using your uberfast broadband? What if it was a dodgy neighbour that hacked your wifi (which is relatively simple in many cases)? How can they enforce a penalty if there's little substantial evidence to establish who the actual offender was?

      That's a poor argument, take redlight and speed cameras as an example, you get mailed a fine, you have 2 choices, pay the fine or transfer the fine to the person who was driving, either way someone is paying the fine.

      If you can't proove who inside your network was downloading the content then its only logical that you'd have to pay the fine as it is your internet connection and you are responsible for it, claiming ignorance is not a valid argument.

        Sadly it's not very good if you are renting with other people and share a net connection.

        I don't know these people I live with that well, we lead separate lives and do our own things, I have no idea of what they use the connection to look at or download, let alone have control over them.

        In my case the people I'm with seem quite reasonable, but even people who appear decent can have 'ugly' sides; and if punishment is a fine or jail time you can bet most people will deny everything to cover their self.

      They can't. Hence sending letters hoping fools will pay.

    I wonder what the deal will be with file-sharing programs that have already been on free-to-air?

    For example, I like watching Dr Who. Can I record a broadcast episode to watch later? I think so. Can I still watch it once the ABC has lost the rights to it and it becomes part of the BBC's commercial catalogue? I assume so. If I watch the episode (either live or recorded), can I download it to have a digital copy?

    Lots of people like to equate downloading with theft, but where exactly is the theft if it's something that has already been given to me for free?!

      Hell, I watch Dr Who on BBC iPlayer. Technically it isn't licenced to me at all, are the BBC going to start suing geohoppers? How are we any better than someone torrenting game of thrones?

        Torrenting is a different story and is the main bain of the movie studios, by Torrenting you are sharing or "seeding" the file to other users who are in turn seeding the file again, which helps to spread the content even further than it already was, by torrenting you are distributing copyright content.

          There's something poetic about the way that what makes Torrenting such an efficient way for sharing files also a way for sharing the copyright infringing...

      Whether it's been shown on free to air TV or not will be irrelevant if a case like this goes to court. The content owners have the rights to distribute the film as they see fit and using a model that suits them at the time (be it ad supported on FTA TV, DVD or whatever). Because someone made it available at one point at zero out of pocket cost to you doesn't then mean people can distribute and access the film as they see fit from then onwards.

      I could get free advanced tickets to see a movie. I don't then get to walk into any session over the ensuring months to watch it again.

      Of course if you record the TV viewing then no one will do anything because it can't be traced back to you assuming you keep the copy to yourself.

      I also assume that the stations pay studios based on a set amount of screenings, so to that end I'd assume they haven't covered the cost associated with a show being shown an unlimited number of times otherwise they'd probably take greater advantage of that themselves for out of peak hour sessions as opposed to running cheap to air/produce programs.

      Last edited 09/04/15 1:36 pm

    So the company behind a film about a group of people who band together to access a product they can't easily acquire, is threatening a group of people who collectively tried to access a product in the way they wanted to acquire it. Not saying there's a comparison between people fighting HIV/AIDS drugs and file sharing, but does seem somewhat ironic.

    Also, Dallas Buyers Club is available on HBO NOW, if you live in Australia but have a US iTunes account. Just installed it and it works perfectly. Don't need a US credit card to sign up. Hopefully, once the 30 day free trial is up it will just use my iTunes credit.

      YES! This is what I never understood, understand the plight of the person and provide a solution, the context of the movie (according to Wiki, I haven't watched it) was strangely akin to the same scenario as this torrent issue yet I have never seen the parallels mentioned anywhere before.

    So if I borrow this movie from the library for free...and i invite my friends over to watch I also classed as a pirate since i didn't pay for the film and have shared it with friends?

    Also, if you did download this movie (I didn't..and don't) but If you did and you cancelled your iinet account. Can they still legally retain your information?

    Haters be cool...I'm just asking questions!

    Last edited 09/04/15 7:31 am

      First question... technically yes. Just like it's technically illegal to record something from free to air TV and then play it to a different audience. I believe you also can't buy a CD and play it in public without some special licenses. Basically, copyright law is completely broken. It was designed for a time before dvd players, recorders, cd burners and photocopiers.

      second question... depends on the time frame but probably yes. If you closed your account and moved physical address then iinet wouldn't have your details.

        Businesses are required by law to retain several types of records, particularly related to invoicing and accounting, for a certain minimum period. It's certain that iiNet will retain records about you that can be used to identify you, to not do so would be illegal.

        But presumably DBC LLC will have your name and your address from around a year ago and could probably track you down pretty easily. Maybe if you had a common name, you could get around that but otherwise I assume DBC could use evidence like the electoral roll to pretty easily show that you are the person whose records they have. Whether they'd bother is another question.

      Well no, because the library is acting as a rental agent, like Blockbuster etc.
      iiNet are legally obliged to keep your information for, I think, 7 years.

        Yeah exactly, just as TV stations are allowed to broadcast the film. Certain agencies will have agreements in place to distribute a film with the movies distributor, often at no cost to the end user. It doesn't then legitimise gaining free access to the film outside of those officially backed distribution streams.

      ISP's currently and have always kept logs about which user was issued which IP at a given point in time (not doing so would be negligent), this is not new and is not related to the new metadata laws, and just because you close your account doesn't mean they instantly dispose of your account records, they keep it in their system for who knows how long. In the early 2000's when I worked at a local ISP accounts were never purged, merely disabled. So no closing your account and moving ISP's is not a valid method to hide your activity.

    Anybody think the timing of this ruling in relation to the timing of 3-strikes rule being signed off is a bit suss. That is, this ruling has exposed offenders to legal action from the copyright holder; at the same time the 3-strikes rule has been signed off, which mandates that the first step to dissuading piracy is merely an educational letter, not legal action.

    So right now there are probably plenty of people monitoring this Dallas Buyers Club situation thinking "geez, I hope I only receive an educational letter....".

    Prior to the Dallas Buyers Club case the introduction of this 3-strikes system would have been negatively received, yet now it's looking like the sweeter option if you're one of the offenders that's about to be named. This certainly seems like a well timed opportunity for the government to flout the 3-strikes rule as positive, given that the 1st strike would protect the offender from legal action. Seems a bit suss to me.

    @campbellsimpson why do you use emotive language such as "fines" in your article? A private company can't issue a fine for copyright infringement, it can only seek or make a claim for damages. Fines are only issued for criminal copyright infringement, which is restricted to a limited set of circumstances dealing primarily with commercial infringement, rather than civil infringement (which covers the majority of DBC downloaders). Utilising such emotive language scares people and doesn't accurately represent the situation. I would expect a journalist and media outlet to use the correct terminology when dealing with such matters.

    I got 5 bucks for the dvd thats my payment if I ever get a notice

    I have no desire to see Dallas Buyers Club but I'm thinking I might not getting around to watching anything from Voltage Pictures any time soon.

      Sounds Great! I think we should all boycott all movies from Voltage Pictures to send them a message!

    and if it continues there will be action — like their ISP connection will be shut down, or what have you.

    In their wildest dreams, surely these US companies don't believe that they have this kind of authority.

    Do they?

    I'm no lawyer so correct me if i am wrong here, but realistically, what actual DAMAGES could these people claim from an individual downloader?

    Their royalties from a DVD sale or movie ticket are likely less than $10 per copy. However, the nature of torrenting means that the individual has also uploaded the film to other users, so they may be responsible for those damages as well.

    If the individual shared the file with 50 people, then they would be potentially causing damages in the order of 50 times the royalty amount. But what if the individual only uploaded a fraction of the film to those 50 people? Let's say their total upload was only 50MB of a 1.5GB file? Surely they are only responsible for that fraction of the damages rather than the entire amount?

    Punitive damages are the only other option and an individual is not likely to be punished with exhorbitant punitive damages, unless there is evidence that they have actively sought to cause severe damages to the plaintiff.

    All this talk about fines is bullshit too. Dallas Buyers Club is not able to fine anyone. Only the courts can impose a fine, so any fine would be completely up to the courts rather than the company. The courts can impose a fine of up to $60,500 on an individual and up to 5 years imprisonment. Even in the worst commercial counterfeiting cases, fines rarely go into the thousands and very rarely is a prison sentence even considered, and that's when they have pirated thousands of dvds and sold them for profit.

    On top of everything the cost for Dallas Buyers Club to actually persue this in a court would likely exceed any judgement likely to be given in their favour. In effect thwy would win, but still lose money.

      Definitely, VP would lose money as I doubt if they can afford to take more than 50% of Australians to court, and there aren't enough courts and judges to hear that many cases.

    The fact that they are not targeting website that actually distribute these torrents make me suspicious of their intention.

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