End of an epic? Dallas Buyers Club's case against iiNet dismissed

The case between iiNet and Dallas Buyers Club looks set to end with the Federal Court ruling that the rights holders can't seek huge fees from pirates, and saying there must be finality to the "Ben-Hur" legal proceedings.

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The case over "Dallas Buyers Club" piracy is all but done and dusted.

Pinnacle Films

After more than a year in court, the case between Dallas Buyers Club LLC and iiNet is set to be dismissed in its entirety, pending a final appeal from the film's legal team, with the Federal Court today blocking the rights holders from seeking punitive damages from pirates.

In a Federal Court hearing that lasted less than a minute, Justice Nye Perram today issued his judgement on the matter, saying that "some finality must now be brought to these proceedings."

"It needs to be kept in mind that what is before the Court is a preliminary discovery application, not Ben-Hur," he said.

While Perram J has left room for DBC to make further appeals to the court by February, today's decision quashes the rights holders' hopes of chasing after individual pirates for high figures over the cost of downloading the film, the cost of obtaining their details in the first place, and the unknown sum it was seeking for punitive damages, designed to act as a firm deterrent against pirates.

It is common for rights holders in other regions (such as the US) to pursue individual pirates for damages in a process known as "speculative invoicing." However, today's judgement and the previous rulings in the case have set a precedent against the practice, with Justice Perram striking out DBC's bid to come after individual torrenters for large sums of money.

The rights holders behind the film "Dallas Buyers Club" have been staring down iiNet and a number of other smaller Internet service providers since November last year, seeking the personal details of people alleged to have torrented the film. The case appeared in Federal Court in February this year.

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. However, in August, Perram J ordered that DBC would only be able to seek damages from individuals for the cost of purchasing the film and costs related to obtaining infringers' details. DBC later turned down its right to appeal this decision, saying it was still seeking "additional damages."

However Perram J has today put a stop to those plans, rejecting DBC's bid to obtain punitive damages, designed to act as a deterrent to further pirating.

The rights holders argued that the "flagrancy" of infringers' torrenting habits should be factored in when working out the additional damages DBC could be awarded. But Perram noted that the method DBC used to detect pirates in Torrent swarms (a German software known as MaverickEye) was only able to detect when parts of the "Dallas Buyers Club" film were downloaded, not when other films were torrented. For this reason, the Court ruled that DBC can't chase pirates for additional punitive damages.

The court also struck down DBC's attempt to obtain damages equivalent to a fee for "a non-exclusive worldwide licence to distribute the Film." Essentially, DBC had argued that torrenters could have sought a license to watch Matthew McConaughey's Oscar-winning performance, rather than downloading it and infringing the film's copyright.

However, in his judgement, Perram J said that it was "wholly unrealistic" that BitTorrent users would have sought out a distribution license for the film rather than downloading it. He also noted that DBC had failed to make a case for how much that fee would be.

The Federal Court has ruled that, unless further applications are made by Dallas Buyers Club, this case against iiNet will be dismissed in its entirety on February 11, 2016.