Dallas Buyers Club case: Some things to know if you have illegally downloaded the movie

SINGAPORE - More than 500 people here who chose to enjoy Oscar-winning film Dallas Buyers Club by downloading it over the Internet found themselves in hot water this week when the owner of the film rights decided it is payback time.

The owner, Dallas Buyers Club LLC, has embarked on a global campaign in countries such as Singapore and Australia to take action against illegal downloaders.

Here are some things copyright infringers, and those thinking of downloading the next movie, ought to know.

Which ISPs here are giving up their customers' details?

All three major Internet service providers - Singtel, StarHub and M1 - have received court orders to cough up their customers' details. More than 500 Singapore Internet protocol (IP) addresses have apparently been identified.

The Straits Times understands that Dallas Buyers Club LLC had asked for subscriber details from the ISPs last year, but failed.

It then made an application to the High Court earlier this year to force the ISPs to release customer details.

M1 was the first to comply in January. StarHub and Singtel are in the process of doing so.

MyRepublic and ViewQwest said they did not receive any request for subscriber details.

Who are in trouble?

Only people who shared the downloaded movie with other people via BitTorrent, said Mr Steve Dalby, the former chief regulatory officer of Australian ISP iiNet, according to 2DayFM.

"They (Dallas Buyers Club LLC) can't detect downloaders so if I downloaded it but never shared it I wouldn't be concerned about it," he told Fairfax Media.

However, arguing that the movie was shared accidentally will not hold water in court, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) said.

If a person's BitTorrent programme shares even a small portion of the file, he will be liable.

How are other countries handling the issue?

In the United States and United Kingdom, a large number of letters of demand are sent out to suspected infringers to pressure people to "pay-up or else", said SMH.

These infringers often pay what the rights holders demand to avoid a costly legal case.

In Australia, however, people who have received the letters should not expect to pay up immediately.

SMH said the Australian Federal Court has ordered that any letters to be sent by the rights holders must be vetted by the court first.

ABC News quoted Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton as saying he doubted that outrageous demands would be allowed in Australia, as he believes "damages in Australia are typically compensatory, not punitive".

Will it be easy for consumers to be sued?

No. The firm must identify the actual people who had infringed the film's copyright. It will also have to contend with the high costs of a civil suit.

Singapore lawyer Bryan Tan, a technology partner at Pinsent Masons MPillay, said the firm must establish a link between the ISP address and the person they are taking action against.

This is tricky because families share the same Wi-Fi connection, and as such, have the same IP address. Some unsecured Wi-Fi connections can also be freely accessed by anyone.

"It is unclear whether the law will presume liability for the Internet account holder," said Mr Tan.

Are court proceedings likely?

Not for cases of small-scale downloads as the real value of the infringement is only the price of a licensed movie download or a DVD, plus legal fees and investigation costs, said Mr Lau Kok Keng, intellectual property lawyer at Rajah & Tann Singapore.

Otherwise, copyright holders can claim statutory damages under Singapore's Copyright Act. This can go up to $10,000 per title per person.

Should downloaders be very alarmed?

Not according to an intellectual property lawyer in Australia, who said a large fine is not likely, as Dallas Buyers Club LLC is most likely trying to educate the public about copyright infringement, not to threaten them.

ABC News cited Mr Peter Banki, an IP lawyer at Banki Haddock Fiora Lawyers, as saying downloaders should not be unduly alarmed if they have been "simply copying instead of buying an authorised copy but they're not involved in large scale or commercial activities".

I received a letter from Dallas Buyers Club LLC. What should I do?

Get legal help - that's the advice of Singapore lawyer Bryan Tan, a technology partner at Pinsent Masons MPillay. He said those who have infringed copyright laws will face penalties "if this goes all the way".

Intellectual property lawyer Cyril Chua of ATMD Bird & Bird said the film studio may sue a few individuals here to scare people into paying the settlement fee, which has not been disclosed.

Sources: ABC News, Sydney Morning Herald, 2DayFM