A new group, called the "Movie Rights Group" (MRG), is taking a leaf out of the playbook of U.K. and U.S. anti-piracy firms, by "suing" Internet users for copyright infringement in Australia.
Up to 9,000 Australians have been "identified" as taking part in downloading the film "Kill the Irishman", and MRG, who represents Lightning Films, the production company for the film, has been sending requests to ISPs to with identifying users.
Firms like MRG usually extract IP addresses from public BitTorrent swarms, and then asks ISPs to link the IP address (and with a precise time of participation in the swarm, to help identify those with dynamic IP addresses) to user accounts, including email and physical address details. The next step would be to send the user a notification of intention to sue (MRG is using the law firm Lloyds Solicitors to send out the notices), with warnings of up to hundreds of thousands in damages, but the real money is made with a pre-trial settlement offer, usually in the thousands of dollars, to make the matter go away. Usually, the anti-piracy firm has no real intention to sue, for fear of having the case rejected or losing the case and setting the wrong precedent.
ISPs are usually loathe to provide help link IP addresses to user accounts, mainly due to the cost involved. In the U.S, anti-piracy firms has to get a court to issue a subpoena to force ISPs to divulge customer data, and even then, the ISP usually has a deal with each firm to release only a small number of account details per month. But MRG is trying a different approach, with the firm offering to compensate ISPs for their effort.
It appears all major ISPs have been contacted by Movie Rights Group, with ISP Exetel's chief executive, John Linton, revealing the approach on his blog. While not detailing Exetel's position on the matter, Linton did write that Exetel's lawyers feels that, if accompanied by a subpoena, ISPs will certainly have to forward customer details to MRG.
Online freedom and consumer advocacy groups have slammed these latest developments. Both the Electronic Frontiers Australia and The Pirate Party of Australia have condemned these tactics as "extortion", calling MRG and firms like it "copyright trolls". Both groups have questioned the legitimacy of using shared IP addresses as the sole piece of evidence in a copyright lawsuit, which does not rule out factors such as unauthorised Internet account usage by hackers who have hacked into wireless routers that a large percentage of the population do not secure properly, and also the imbalance in current copyright laws, which mostly deal with commercial large scale piracy. "This is just another manifestation of the structural imbalance of current copyright laws, and how they are being misappropriated in order to shakedown an entire generation sharing culture, information and knowledge. It’s complete madness," said Pirate Party Australia's secretary Rodney Serkowski.