Copyright cowboys could take consumers for thousands after landmark ruling

CHOICE says that yesterday’s iiNet Federal Court ruling has left nearly one-third of Australians in legal limbo because of our outdated copyright laws.

The Federal Court has ruled that iiNet will have to hand over customer details to allow the owners of Dallas Buyers Club to take legal action against people they believe have pirated their film.


“We’ve yet to see a case in Australia where someone has been taken to court for unlawful online downloads. We know that one-third of Australians pirate TV shows and movies and we’re worried that under our current copyright laws they could face fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says CHOICE Campaigns Manager Erin Turner.

“Our copyright laws were written in the 1960s and were last updated to recognise that people taped shows on their VCR. We need to make sure our laws properly balance the need to protect both copyright and consumers in the digital era.”

“Because of our out-of-date copyright laws this is uncharted legal territory. Anyone accused of copyright infringement should get legal advice.”

The Dallas Buyers Club case comes as rights holders and internet service providers are negotiating an industry code that would see education notices sent to people who allegedly pirate content. CHOICE has written to the Federal Attorney-General and Minister for Communications to inform them of the issues with the proposed Code and the current Copyright Act.

“This proposed Code puts consumers at risk by allowing copyright cowboys to launch lawsuits and protect their outdated distribution models,” Ms Turner says.

The industry-drafted scheme provides a way for rights holders to gain access to consumers’ personal details, enabling them to contact people with threats demanding payment of ‘fines’ for alleged piracy.

“In the recent iiNet case, the Judge put in place protections to make sure rights holders couldn’t send extortion letters, known as ‘speculative invoices’. Under the proposed industry Code we’re unlikely to have these protections and we expect to see a wave of ‘pay up or else’ letters and aggressive legal actions.”

“Aggressive legal action does nothing to address the reasons people pirate. Unlawful downloading comes down to availability, timeliness and affordability. If rights holders are serious about stopping piracy they should make their films and TV shows available in Australia at the same time as everywhere else in the world and make sure it’s priced fairly.”

CHOICE is calling on the Minister for Communications and the Attorney-General to ensure that copyright law and any industry code includes, at a minimum:

  • Limits on the total amount of damages that can be sought by copyright owners;
  • A genuinely independent tribunal for consumers who want to appeal a notice, with no cost for lodging an appeal;
  • A requirement for rights holders to tell consumers where they can legally access the content that they allegedly pirated; and
  • A punishment for rights holders sending ‘pay up or else’ letters.

Consumers can join CHOICE’s call for fair copyright laws at

Photo Credit: Cristiano Betta (cc)