Movie company Voltage Pictures has built quite a reputation in the past couple of years for its approach to those said to have downloaded and shared The Hurt Locker and Dallas Buyers Club without permission.
Rather than take the soft approach, the company has sued thousands of individuals across the United States and has also tested the waters in Canada, Europe and Australia.
Litigation in the latter region is reaching a critical point, with Voltage affiliate Dallas Buyers Club LLC (DBCLLC) attempting to force several local ISPs (iiNet, Wideband Networks, Internode, Dodo Services, Amnet Broadband and Adam Internet) to hand over the identities of individuals said to have downloaded the movie of the same name.
The ISPs have been putting up a fight in Sydney’s Federal Court this week in order to protect their customers and thus far DBCLLC and their piracy tracking partners have been given a rocky ride.
Flown in from Germany especially for the hearing, Daniel Macek of BitTorrent monitoring outfit Maverick Eye was given a particularly hard time. On Monday under cross-examination by iiNet barrister Richard Lancaster, SC, the 30-year-old admitted that he did not prepare his own affidavit.
“It was provided [by Dallas Buyers Club],” Mr Macek said.
Since Macek was appearing as an expert witness, the revelation was pounced upon by Lancaster.
“You provide affidavits and statements in lots of litigations all around the world,” Mr Lancaster said. “Is it your practice just to sign what is put in front of you?”
“No,” Macek replied.
During yesterday’s hearing things only appeared to get worse for Macek, as both his expertise and Maverick Eye’s evidence was called into question. The company provided “.pcap” files to the Court which contained timestamps of alleged infringements but when questioned about their contents, Macek fell short.
“Are you familiar with the information in the .pcap files themselves?” Lancaster asked Macek.
“Not in detail,” Macek admitted.
Lancaster’s questioning was aimed at casting doubt on the timings of alleged infringements logged in the Maverick Eye system. Were the times logged in the .pcap files representative of when a file was uploaded by an infringer’s computer to Maverick Eye’s system, or of a later point when further processing had occurred?
“I don’t understand this .pcap [file] in this detail,” Macek said. “I know how the Maverick software works in general but I’m not aware of the .pcap [files],” he added.
The Judge agreed with Lancaster on the importance of his questioning.
“If the IP [address] switched midway through one of these transmissions it just occurs to me that change would have some impact on your cross-examination,” Justice Perram said.
Also appearing this week was Vice-president of royalties for Voltage Pictures, Michael Wickstrom. The Voltage executive said that piracy was eating away at his company’s profits and had become far too easy. Lawsuits helped raise awareness of the problem, he said.
Under cross-examination Wednesday, Wickstrom denied that the letters sent out to customers in the United States were “threatening”, noting instead that they are a statement of facts.
“There are facts stated [in the letter] that [the customer’s] IP address was identified [as having downloaded the film illicitly],” he said.
“Any settlement amount that is disclosed [in the letter]; that was the attorney’s decision and is done on a case by case basis.”
However, while the company has no real idea of the nature of the people they’re targeting, Wickstrom said his company had limits on who would be pursued for cash demands. According to SMH, the executive said that his company “would not pursue an autistic child, people who were handicapped, welfare cases, or people that have mental issues.”
Some compassion from Voltage perhaps? Not exactly – the company seems more interested in how that would look on the PR front.
“That kind of press would ruin us,” Wickstrom said, adding that “the majority” of piracy was in fact occurring at the hands of vulnerable groups.
If that’s truly the case and any “vulnerable” people inform the company of their circumstances, Voltage stands to make very little money from their Australian venture, despite all the expense incurred in legal action thus far. Strangely, they don’t seem to mind.
“This is truly not about the money here, it’s about stopping illegal piracy,” Wickstrom said.
The case continues next week.