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Dallas Buyers Club witness denies use of 'scare tactics' against pirates

As the case between Dallas Buyers Club and iiNet continues, the film's US distributor has defended the process of chasing individual pirates with letters and fines.

Pinnacle Films

A key witness in Dallas Buyers Club's case against iiNet has defended the rights holder's actions against alleged pirates, particularly the so-called 'discovery letters' that are sent to those found infringing copyright.

Counsel for iiNet cross-examined Michael Wickstrom, a royalties expert and vice president of Voltage Pictures, the company that claims copyright over the "Dallas Buyers Club" film.

In a tense round of questioning, Wickstrom defended the process of contacting copyright infringers individually. He denied questions from iiNet's lawyers that the letters were used to "threaten the account holder with litigation" or make demands, and argued that they were not always used to seek financial damages from suspected pirates.

According to Wickstrom, a letter of discovery simply informs an internet user that their IP address "has been identified with copyright infringement".

"There are no scare tactics, there are facts," he said. "Any settlement amount that is disclosed, that is the attorney's decision. That's on a letter-by-letter, case-by-case basis.

"You infer that we're demanding. We're saying that we encourage [the alleged infringer] to seek legal advice," he added. "It's stating there's an investigation, it's stating there was a serious offence, and as a good faith settlement we will agree to 'x' amount."

Wickstrom noted that sending letters to the account holder linked to an IP address was acceptable because "generally the account holder is the one infringing".

'That press would ruin us'

However, Wickstrom did offer a caveat on the discovery process, saying that rights holders were not interested in chasing every person found to be infringing copyright.

"A lot of those letters are going to military folks, schools, halfway houses, the mentally disabled, welfare [recipients]... how can I possibly pursue those people?" he said.

"We are very concerned with the press saying, 'How dare Voltage pursue someone in the military, or an autistic child'...that press would ruin us."

Similarly, Wickstrom conceded that the company instructs lawyers to "dismiss" piracy conducted through open networks, because it is "too hard" to find the individual downloader.

"But I will say to the account holders, 'Do something about your network, put a password on it'," he said.

In addition to a warning to pirates, Wickstrom defended the practice of directing fines directly towards individuals, saying this kind of "serious" action was warranted when the Australian distributor had paid a significant sum of money for the rights to the film.

"There's a settlement amount on a parking fine, there should be some sort of amount in the letter," he said. "If I ripped up my parking ticket, I would assume the court would proceed with further steps."

Counsel for Dallas Buyers Club is seeking to keep the courts out of the eventual settlement process in the iiNet case, if the court finds in its favour. However, Wickstrom said his experience was that, in most cases, a letter from a rights holder is a "good deterrent" to further piracy.

"All I request is that our local attorneys send a warning, because I don't anticipate a settlement from them except a warning. This is truly not about the money here, it's about stopping illegal piracy," he said.

"What are we going to do? Just sit there and let them share the file?"