news The Pirate Party of Australia has described as “extortion as a business model” action by a Sydney-based law firm which has seen Australian ISPs issued with a series of letters requesting they hand over the details of users who have allegedly used peer to peer file sharing platforms to pirate content owned by the firm’s clients.
Last week Delimiter revealed that Sydney-based firm Marque Lawyers, which counts intellectual property as amongst its specialities, had issued a number of Australian Internet service providers with letters requesting they reveal the identities of users belonging to IP addresses linked with peer to peer file sharing activity on platforms such as BitTorrent.
Several of the ISPs concerned immediately responded to Marque denying access to the details of the users concerned. The firm has signalled that it is considering using the courts system to apply for what are known as ‘preliminary discovery’ orders to retrieve the information. It is believed by some commentators that this avenue is one of the only ones available to rights holders to tackle piracy in Australia, following the conclusive judgement in the High Court piracy case involving iiNet, the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft and a number of film and TV studios.
The use of the discovery mechanism to source the user details of ISP customers suspected of committing online copyright infringement is a mechanism which has been popularised in the United States over the past several years. It involves copyright owners asking a court to force ISPs to release user details so that those users — rather than the ISP itself — can be prosecuted directly or otherwise targeted by the content owners.
In a 2010 lawsuit filed by one of the more high-profile US organisations involved in this kind of practice, for example, known as the US Copyright Group, a Washington District Judge approved subpoenas relating to more than a thousand Time Warner Cable customers. An article published by Arstechnica in 2010 lays out a timeline involving such cases.
In response to the revelation, late last week Pirate Party Australia issued a statement noting that it ‘condemned’ the firm’s actions, describing them as reminiscent of “US-style copyright shakedowns”.
“The iiNet ruling, while protecting ISPs from liability for the activities of customers, opened the way for this sort of predatory suit which had thus far not yet materialised in Australia, as groups like AFACT had been attempting to negotiate a deal with ISPs to deal with file sharing, which ultimately failed,” the party said in a statement.
Pirate Party Candidate for the Senate in Victoria, Joe Miles, aded: “Ambulance-chasing legal action does nothing to support content creators, who are the reason we have copyright. This kind of
extortionate behaviour only benefits the commission based pay packets of opportunistic Lionel Hutz-like lawyers. It’s nothing more than an exercise in intimidation through litigation.”
The party said it opposed litigation of non-commercial file sharers, and added that it was “high time” that sections of the content industry moved with the times. Platforms like Steam, iTunes and the Amazon Kindle Store showed, according to the party, how there is a thirst for legal, paid content when it is provided in a way that is convenient and timely.
“We once again see extortion as a business model raise its ugly head in the Australian media landscape. Attacking your fans is not a well devised method of conducting business in this day and age.” said David W. Campbell, Pirate Party President and candidate for the Senate in New South Wales.
“Distribution monopolies are worth nothing if you cannot distribute what the people want; fast, uncrippled and appropriately priced access to content. Predatory litigation continues to ride the fail train that bypasses the lessons which successful modern businesses have already learned. The free sharing of cultural works aka piracy, is primarily a customer service issue.” continued Campbell.
The party said it was concerned by the international trend of predatory litigation techniques used by the likes of ACS:Law in the UK and Prenda Law in the US, and would resist and highlight any attempts to use similar shakedown litigation techniques in Australia.
Delimiter has contacted Marque Lawyers by telephone and email last week to request a statement or interview on the situation, and will publish any statement received from the firm or its clients in full as a right of reply to this article and other articles.
The news comes as ongoing talks on the subject of Internet copyright infringement between the telecommunications industry and rights holders under the auspices of the Federal Attorney-General’s Department appear to have collapsed, with each side being unable to reach consensus on the appropriate way to tackle the issue in Australia.
The most recent scheme proposed by the ISPs in November 2011 would see Australians issued with warning and educational notices after content owners provided evidence that the users had breached copyright online, with the ultimate penalty involving the ISPs potentially participating in some form of legal discovery process to hand some user details over to rights holders. However, it is believed that the scheme was quickly rejected by local representatives of rights holder organisations.
Copyright infringement of major works continues to be an issue in Australia. Analysis by file-sharing news site TorrentFreak published in April, for example, showed that Australia continued to be the world’s most enthusiastic nation globally in terms of illegally downloading popular US TV show Game of Thrones, despite the fact that the series was made available legally, in an affordable manner and in high quality in Australia shortly after it was broadcast in the US, through platforms such as Apple’s iTunes and the Foxtel pay TV service.
Foxtel has subsequently confirmed reports that it will block the remaining seasons of HBO’s popular Game of Thrones series from being offered in Australia hours after the show is released in the US, due to an exclusive deal with the show’s producer HBO signed in October last year. Commentators immediately hailed the deal as a move that would further stimulate illegal downloads of the show.
Internationally, the issue is also still hotly debated. For example, last week a report commissioned by the French Government recommended that the country should soften its controversial ‘three strikes’ law, which allocates the HADOPI agency in the country the power to cut off the Internet access of those accused of Internet copyright infringement. The report also reportedly recommended HADOPI be shut down.