Aussie pirates in the crosshairs as Village Roadshow threatens to sue illegal downloaders

Last year, Creative Content Australia, the consortium representing Foxtel, Village Roadshow and the Australian Screen Association, successfully lobbied to get Australian internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to so-called piracy sites and their associated domains.

This has forced users to find ways to circumvent the blocks by either using VPN (virtual private network) services or finding proxies of the piracy sites that have not yet been blocked.

Last week, however, Australia’s largest film producer, Village Roadshow, went a step further to threaten individuals who have pirated content with legal action “later in the year”.

Beware the courts

Given how easy it is to circumvent the ISP blocks, Village Roadshow boss Graham Burke has told Fairfax Media that “people who infringe [copyrighted movies] are people who steal, it's theft and it's not a victimless crime. There needs to be a price to pay. What we plan to do [is] sue people that are stealing our movies. So if someone steals Red Dog and Mad Max: Fury Road, we will sue them for the two viewings of those movies, plus some damages" incurred by the production company.

According to Burke, infringement notices will be mailed to alleged pirates, but legal action will be withdrawn if the person in question is in financial difficulties or suffering ill health.

"For people who are in dire circumstances, we will withdraw the action if [they] undertake not to steal in the future," Burke added.

Village Roadshow will, however, need to convince ISPs to hand over personal information of the suspected infringers which, Burke said, could be done via the courts.

If the production company gets the go-ahead from the government, it will begin sending out infringement notifications to Aussie pirates this year. 

However, it's worth noting that Voltage Pictures, the production company behind the film Dallas Buyers Club, had a similar plan aimed at Australian pirates that was knocked back by the Federal Court of Australia in 2015.

Anyone using a VPN to get past the block could well be safe for now, but Burke believes technology will catch up soon enough to help detect piracy via proxy.