Barrister slams Dallas Buyers letter to pirates

Letters awaiting court approval have been criticised for attempting to intimidate accused downloaders.

The Dallas Buyers Club is in the spotlight again after film makers won the right to pursue 4726 people who illegally shared the film.

iiNet barrister Richard Lancaster has criticised drafted letters awaiting court approval, questioning whether the letters and scripted phone calls would assess the damages based on the income of accused downloaders.  He also said that the production company has no right to ask for download histories in the course of attempting to reach a settlement.

The Guardian reported that Lancaster said the compensation bid did not amount to “a royal commission into end users of the BitTorrent network”.

“This is a case about Dallas Buyers Club the film,” he said. “There should not be this kind of collection of material over the phone.”

The proposed letter and accompanying scripts for telephone calls to downloaders has attracted criticism for being vague. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the letter’s failure to determine an up-front figure may be a strategy to intimidate downloaders into paying up big at the outset.

“The people on the phone aren’t told, ‘We’ve been given your details in respect to a court order,’” Lancaster said. “They are being told much more firmly, ‘You have infringed and we are going to sue if you don’t settle.’”

A barrister for the production company, Ian Pike, said the questions asked would be used to determine whether or not accused downloaders were facing financial hardship and if they are deliberate and serial downloaders.

“We are entitled in the letter to assert in reasonably firm terms why we contend there has been copyright infringement,” he said. “Nothing in the letter oversteps the mark. They are perfectly proper questions. We would be criticised if we didn’t ask them.”

The producer of the film, Voltage Pictures, won the right to send letters to downloaders in April, after Justice Nye Perram ordered internet service providers to hand over the identities of account holders that had allegedly shared the movie online.  

Justice Nye Perram is yet to determine whether the letters can be sent in their current form.

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