If you’re in Australia, you’ll no doubt have heard about the recent judgment for the rights holders of the movie ‘Dallas Buyers Club”. Voltage Pictures successfully sued iiNet, Dodo, Adam Internet, Internode, Amnet Broadband and Wideband Networks to obtain the names and addresses of their clients who allegedly downloaded or uploaded the film illegally – around 4700 accounts.
So, is this fair? Probably. Just how much they pay might not be considered fair though. In the US people who have been hit with infringement letters from the rights holder have negotiated settlements in the order of thousands of dollars (I heard $7,000 settlement in one instance, possibly at the lower end of the spectrum). In Australia, we’re not really sure how the dollar side of these infringements will unfold.
A couple of things have been running through my mind as I think about the people who are going to get these letters. Should they have done it? No. Let’s consider why people download, though. Because it’s free? Maybe. If it was available locally, would they purchase it? Many of those ‘pirates’ say yes. Many download it when it’s available and then buy the DVD when it is available later. As I’ve said in a previous post, I feel for our arts producers. People should be able to produce their ‘art’ for a reasonable fee and if people don’t want to pay it then they can go without. But, at least it is available.
The Dallas Buyers Club DVD was available in the US in February 2014; in Australia its DVD release was July 2014; in India February 2015. Why such delays? Consumption of movie’s is a little different from TV shows, though. Once they’ve been in the cinemas there isn’t quite the preciousness about protecting ourselves from detail, and aside from the ridiculous delays I can’t think of a justification for illegally downloading. But, we also know the fuss around Game of Thrones downloads in Australia when Foxtel stitched up Season 4 availability by only being able to see it as part of one of their plans ($70+ per month for the subscription). Season 3 had been available on Foxtel but also iTunes at the same time. Participation has become an important part of our media consumption and S4 GoT fans were left in the cold, unable to be a part of their online communities or read commentary about their favourite show for fear of spoilers, which also meant they couldn’t immerse themselves in the whole GoT experience. There is a continuity to TV shows and conversation that happens between the airing of episodes that surely has to help build the excitement around the show, doesn’t it? Why would rights holders think it’s OK treat their Australian market with such contempt to not make it available? This model has to change.
So, should people be liable for illegal downloads? Yes. But, only if the content is made available at a reasonable price. This is where the government could step in and say to rights holders ‘yes, we’ll support your cause, but only if you’ve made it reasonably available’. In the case of Dallas Buyers Club liability should be around $12 (what you pay if you buy it from itunes), plus the cost of the rights holder’s legal fees. I’m going to take a stab in the dark here and say they were $1M for this case, which makes $1M divided by 4700 instances around $213 ea, maybe a little extra for having to pursue it in the first place. Plus a reasonable fine for copyright infringement as a deterrent, but this would go to an Australian copyright/creative commons governing body to assist in managing copyright matters rather than to the rights holder. Why? The rights holder doesn’t need punative damages – they haven’t suffered any loss. If I steal a DVD from a store, the DVD is gone. No one else can purchase that DVD once it is gone. The retailer has lost the cost of the DVD plus any profit they were going to make. And more DVDs need to be produced in order to sell them, which costs money. In a digital world, they have not ‘lost’ anything. The digital content is still there and easily sold to another consumer.
Now, I’m only talking about copyright infringement at a personal level, not where it is abused for commercial gain. That’s a whole other ball game. But, for personal infringement, a realistic fine could be $1,000 or even $2,000. Worth it for a movie? Nah.
But, let’s show a little more respect to your consumer and make content available to them more reasonably.