9 Apr 2015

Aust puts illegal downloaders on notice

6:57 am on 9 April 2015

Australia has launched an anti-piracy code similar to New Zealand after a landmark Australian case allowing a film company to demand payment from illegal downloaders.

Hobbit movies helped tourism.

A scene from The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug Photo: WARNER BROS

The company behind Oscar-winning movie The Dallas Buyers Club on Monday won a case in the Australian Federal Court which would force six internet companies to hand over the names of nearly 5000 of their customers who have illegally downloaded the film.

The Dallas Buyers' Club won three Oscars at this year's Academy Awards and the company which owns the film is determined to make a point about internet piracy.

Voltage Pictures said almost 5000 Australians could expect letters demanding payment for illegally downloading the film.

Its lawyer, Michael Bradley, said at this stage the company would probably not take similar action in New Zealand.

"I don't know if New Zealand's in the same boat and it's obviously a considerably small market, so it would be of less concern to film studios than Australia, which is a relatively large market, but this sort of action has been progressively rolling out in quite a number of different countries so it may happen," he said.

Those who had downloaded the movie had done it not just once for personal use, instead uploading it to be shared with others - something the company saw as a far more serious crime.

030314. Photo Weta Digital. Still images from the Hobbit, Desolation of Smaug

A scene from The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug Photo: WETA DIGITAL

In 2011 New Zealand introduced the Copyright Infringing File Sharing Act to try to stop internet piracy.

Since then, people caught illegally downloading music, films or other copyright material are given three warnings by their internet service provider.

If they do not stop, their details are passed on to the copyright holders and they can be disconnected or fined as much as $15,000.

Intellectual property lawyer Gus Hazel, who acts for the Motion picture Association of America, said it was unlikely film companies would take court action here because New Zealand had legislation which could make similar court action redundant.

"An application for third party discovery might be met with some concern on the part of the judge by saying 'well why are you seeking that, when there is a mechanism available under the copyright act'?"

Internet New Zealand chief executive Jordan Carter said Australia's own adoption of a three strikes code did not invalidate Voltage Pictures' ability to send out the warning letters to illegal downloaders.

It was no coincidence the new code followed so closely behind the court decision, he said.

"The Australian government gave rights holders and ISPs (internet service providers) a fixed deadline to finish this draft code, so the government said if you can't come up with an agreed solution, we will step in and we will regulate a solution and probably neither of you will like that, so you should make sure you agree."

That deadline was yesterday, and Mr Carter said Australia's new code was similar to New Zealand.