Dallas Buyers Club: What do you earn? How much do you torrent?

Details have emerged of a "telephone script" that rights holders for "Dallas Buyers Club" want to use when contacting alleged torrenters, including questions about the person's wage and internet use.

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Claire Reilly
3 min read

"Dallas Buyers Club". Focus Features

'How much do you earn and how many films have you torrented?'

That's the information the rights holders of "Dallas Buyers Club" are looking to get out of internet users that it alleges have pirated the Oscar-winning film. The questions would be asked as part of a "telephone script" that Dallas Buyers Club LLC wants to use when contacting individual pirates, which includes questions about the internet user's yearly income and how many films they have uploaded to torrents in the past.

The details were revealed in a Federal Court hearing in the ongoing case between Dallas Buyers Club and iiNet (along with several other ISPs), which has seen the rights holders targeting internet users over alleged torrenting of the film. In April this year, Dallas Buyers Club was granted the right to preliminary discovery in the copyright case, meaning it would be able to contact individual pirates and seek damages for copyright infringement.

It has now emerged Dallas Buyers Club has compiled a comprehensive list of questions for the 4,726 internet account holders targeted under the legal action, who will be contacted both by letter and on the telephone.

Dallas Buyers Club submitted both draft communications to the court on June 5, though the content of both the letter and the proposed script for telephone calls to infringers was under wraps until now. However, counsel for iiNet today revealed just what the movie studio wants to say to pirates when it gets them on the phone.

"It clearly comes on too strong in terms of damages," counsel for iiNet, Richard Lancaster SC, said of the telephone script.

Mr Lancaster said the script included questions such as "What is your annual income?" asking the court, "Does the claim for damages go up if the income is high?"

The proposed script also included a line for Dallas Buyers Club representatives to ask, "How many titles do you have now and in the past on the BitTorrent network?"

"[This is not] a royal commission into end users use of the BitTorrent network," Mr Lancaster said. "This is a case about "Dallas Buyers Club" the film. There should not be this kind of collection of material over the phone."

Mr Lancaster also claimed that both the letter and the telephone script were phrased as a "fait accompli" and proof of definite copyright infringement, though he said this was not necessarily the case.

"The people on the phone aren't told, 'We've been given your details in respect to a court order," he said. "They are being told much more firmly, 'You have infringed and we are going to sue if you don't settle'."

"Any of these recipients could run a full case on the reliability of MaverickEye," he added, referring to the software DBC used to detect internet users sharing its film in BitTorrent swarms.

But while counsel for iiNet rejected the content of the letter and the accompanying telephone script, lawyers for Dallas Buyers Club stood their ground.

"We seem to be in a slightly parallel universe about what this letter is," said counsel for DBC, Ian Pike SC. "It is not a letter being sent on a court letterhead...there is nothing in the letter or the script that oversteps the mark."

In regards to the question about an alleged infringers income, Mr Pike said this was "something we regard as being relevant...to whether we will seek a monetary settlement from them. It's up to them whether they answer that question or not." Mr Pike also said recipients of the letters and phone calls would be advised that they could seek independent legal advice.

Regardless of the content of DBC's communications with alleged infringers, Justice Perram warned that representatives of the film studio could easily "slip off the script" or that there could even be "a wholesale repudiation of the process...[going] completely 'off piste,' which would be a very serious contempt."

Mr Pike retorted that Dallas Buyers Club was "likely to be closely scrutinised" on its treatment of supposed pirates, saying, "If we go off script, it's likely to be detected at a very early stage."

While counsel for Dallas Buyers Club said the rights holders would be held to account, they also sought to keep the contents of the letter and telephone script confidential. Despite this, Justice Perram called for both documents to be submitted as evidence.

The case between Dallas Buyers Club LLC and iiNet is expected to return to court in mid-July.