Village Roadshow has threatened to sue Australians who have illegally downloaded Spider-Man 2, Jurassic World and The Lego Movie.
But copyright experts say the company’s threat will likely prove to be an empty one.
The Federal Court on Friday ordered Telstra, Optus and other internet service providers (ISPs) to block 42 websites hosting pirated copies of movies.
Village Roadshow has taken the issue a step further with threats to sue individuals who illegally downloaded its movies, which include titles such as Cinderella and the television show Shameless.
CEO Graham Burke, who is also chairman of Creative Content Australia, said the company was “working up the process” to sue Australians, Australian Financial Review reported.
Australians could expect a copyright infringement lawsuit on their hands by the end of the year, Mr Burke said.
Copyright owners in Australia are limited to suing for the actual harm they’ve suffered.
“We will be looking for damages commensurate with what they’ve done,” Mr Burke told AFR.
“We’ll be saying, ‘You’ve downloaded our Mad Max: Fury Road, our Red Dog, and we want $40 for the four movies plus $200 in costs.”
And in order to avoid a PR disaster, Village Roadshow would take into consideration a person’s health and wellbeing.
“We will identify people who are stealing our product, we will ask them do they have ill health or dire circumstances, and if they do and undertake to stop, we’ll drop the case.”
Otherwise, he said, the company will “pursue them vigorously and sue for damages”.
That somewhat softer approach follows a backlash in the United States where the entertainment industry pursued the sick and elderly for thousands, often fallaciously, according to media reports.
Dr Nicolas Suzor, from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) law school, said suing individuals was a “stupid way to tackle piracy”.
“There’s no way for this system to be an effective deterrent,” he said.
“This is a retrograde step, it’s idiocy. It’s not based on anything we’ve learned in the last 20 years.
“Assuming the chance of getting caught are low, there’s no rational reason for Australian consumers to be worried.”
He said it could “alienate fans” and be a costly exercise for the company. Dr Suzor said he did not condone copyright infringements, but said production companies needed to provide “cheap, fast, convenient” and legal alternatives for Australians to watch films.
Dr Matthew Rimmer, an intellectual property expert from QUT, said it was much more complex to target individuals.
“What if there are children torrenting The Lego Movie?”
How do studios identify illegal downloaders?
Dr Suzor said companies could easily identify the IP addresses of people who illegally download a film.
“Most commonly we see it on protocols like BitTorrent, where film studios hire private investigation firms to basically sit on those torrents and capture the IP address of anyone who connects to the downloaded or torrented film,” he said.
“All of this data collection is done automatically, they will write a program that will take down an IP address.”
The company would then need to apply for a court order to access the postal address connected to the IP address.
In 2015, the Federal Court blocked the Dallas Buyers Club copyright owners from compelling ISPs from handing over the details of their customers.
The court was concerned the copyright owners would “extort” Australians, Dr Suzor said, after Americans were sent “speculative invoices” in the thousands.
Dr Rimmer said that case set an important precedence to consider the Village Roadshow threat.
The Federal Court on Friday gave ISPs 15 business days to block access to websites MegaShare and WatchSeries.
The New Daily approached Mr Burke for comment.