Dallas Buyers Club wins the battle, but will infringers win the war?
In a move that is sure to result in celebrations by English professors nationwide, journalists have been given a perfect opportunity to make correct use of the word ‘ironic’. The producers of the movie ‘The Dallas Buyers Club’, a film in which Matthew McConnaughey stars as an HIV positive man trying to circumvent Intellectual Property laws that prevented access to AIDS drugs, have scored a win in Court against consumers who are alleged to have infringed their copyright.
The facts of the case have been widely reported, and can be found summarised here:
But what does this battle really mean? Is this the end of copyright infringement as we know it? Will the rivers of data that, up until today had been flowing with increasing speed, suddenly dry up? Are you reading these questions in a reflective southern drawl?
To answer these questions, it’s necessary to dig deeper than the philosophical musings of a True Detective monologue.
Movie companies have for years been trying to prevent users from infringing their content. Somewhat slow to the game, the industry has lagged behind efforts by the music industry to tackle the growing problem of copyright infringement. Whilst slow internet speeds previously meant that downloading movies was as unattractive as enduring Failure to Launch, faster speeds, bigger download limits, and simple to use technologies have made unlawful downloads more appealing than Magic Mike 2.
So the industry has had to act. When suing ISPs as the ‘enablers’ of copyright infringement failed, the studios have had to look at other mechanisms to combat infringement. It appears to be a multi-pronged attack. First they have done some significant lobbying of government, leading to the development of an industry code, and legislation being proposed as recently as this week to block access to file sharing websites such as the Pirate Bay. Now in the latest chapter of the offensive the industry is coming after individual users.
But will access to the names and addresses of over 4500 users really lead to 4500 law suits? Most likely not. Due to the way that Australian laws work, it would be highly unlikely that the Courts would award damages of any amount that would get anywhere near the costs of taking Court action. Further, the ruling of the Court has put to bed any concern that the studios could send out ‘speculative invoices’ claiming dollar sums bigger than the pay cheque for Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Next Generation.
That pretty much leaves the option of show trials: Picking some of the worst offenders and suing them regardless of the cost. However this would be a costly, and unpopular move.
So if they’re not actually going to sue anyone, what is the end game for DBC? Well, they may have already achieved it. There’s a reason that the studios went for Dallas Buyers Club, rather than say, 13 Conversations About One Thing (although that would have given them a free kick at the notorious art-house pirates!) With blogs being written about the issue, front page news stories around the world, and 4500 people nervously awaiting a Court sanctioned letter about their internet habits, the DBC may just have achieved all it hoped for.
At the end of the day though, this may be optimistic thinking. Whilst the volume of infringement might slow temporarily, this case will soon be forgotten, and infringement will keep on rising in pace.
So what is the solution? How should the industry compete with ‘free’? Well, several lessons can be learned from the music industry: make content available quickly, easily, and affordably, so that the hassle and potential risks associated with unlawful downloading just don’t stack up.
Until then, infringement ceasing is about as likely as Fool’s Gold being considered a cinematic gem.