DBC – a purpose-built group designed by the film’s owners, Voltage Pictures, to target illegal downloaders – has been seeking reimbursement from almost 5,000 Australians accused of copying and sharing the film online.
But after almost two years in Australian courts, DBC chose on Friday not to launch an appeal against a Federal Court decision that blocked the company’s attempt to contact the alleged pirates.
The result sets a precedent that may safeguard Australia’s illegal downloaders from other out-of-pocket Hollywood production companies who come knocking in future.
Michael Bradley, managing partner of Marque Lawyers, the Australian firm hired to represent Voltage Pictures, said the loss would be felt by the entire film industry, which loses billions of dollars at the box office annually due to people accessing “ripped” versions over the net.
“It’s certainly a disappointing outcome for them,” Bradley said in comments published by The Guardian on Friday.
“It doesn’t do anything to mitigate the infringement that’s going on – it’s not a particularly satisfactory outcome from that point of view.”
However, Bradley told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that it was not the “end of the line” for those who continually flout the law by illegally downloading films.
The case, which began in October 2014, was the first of its kind in Australia, testing the ability of entertainment companies to seek financial restitution from those who supposedly steal their copyrighted content.
Despite initially being cleared to make contact with the 4,726 account holders in April, another Federal court judge shot down their previous proposal as “wholly unrealistic” and “so surreal as to not be taken seriously”.
A range of other structures to determine the appropriate amount of damages were tabled, but were all thrown out of court.
The result is expected to set a precedent making it increasingly unlikely Australian downloaders can be held accountable for online theft, without major changes to the Federal piracy law.
DBC focused their entire case on suspected downloaders from a lone Australian Internet Service Provider, iiNet. It is believed a win would have opened the floodgates, with other affected film companies using the precedent to sue thousands of Australians.
In the United States, DBC used a technique known as “speculative invoicing”, drawing huge lump sums from illegal downloaders by threatening legal recourse.
In 2011, a study estimated that movie piracy costs the Australian film industry one billion U.S. dollars annually. Enditem