The tale of Rod Woodroof touched the lives of many through Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar-winning performance in Dallas Buyers Club. Now, the film looks set to touch the lives of many more through the Australian court system. In Dallas Buyers Club LLC v iiNet [2015] FCA 317, Dallas Buyers Club, which owns the rights to the film, was granted a preliminary discovery order requiring six internet service providers (the ISPs) to hand over the names and physical addresses (but not email addresses) of 4,726 IP addresses allegedly involved in downloading or sharing the film.

Dallas Buyers Club used the preliminary discovery procedure to apply for disclosure of the account holder details of subscribers whose accounts were associated with sharing copies of the film through BitTorrent. The investigation had matched the activity to IP addresses allocated by the ISPs to their Australian subscribers. Although this is a well-established form of application in a non-internet situation, the ISPs fought very hard to convince the Court that different rules applied to the internet.

The ISPs threw every conceivable argument into their defence, ranging from claims that it would not be possible to identify the infringer within the subscriber household (the judge said, “the audiences for Cinderella and American Sniper would have few common members (hopefully)”), to the unlikelihood of an action ever being brought against the subscribers based on the economics of bringing actions against them for such small damages claims and the spectre of “speculative invoicing” if Dallas Buyers Club was given the information they sought. The judge rejected the lot of them.

The ISPs also made the argument that the draft internet code that has been circulated for public comment by the Communications Alliance after negotiations between Australian ISPs and rights holders, was another reason for the orders to be refused. This was curious because iiNet was one of the same ISPs to be involved in the code negotiations and would have known that the code provided for a streamlined mechanism for copyright owners such as Dallas Buyers Club to obtain preliminary discovery orders against Australian ISPs, whose subscribers have been sent notices relating to suspected infringements.

The judge foreshadowed that he would permit the disclosure of the account details, on conditions, and indicated that he would review and approve of any communication that Dallas Buyers club would send to the subscribers in relation to the infringement. Dallas Buyers Club has said publicly that they do not intend to go after “the handicapped, welfare cases or people that have mental issues or the military”. The ISPs have not yet indicated whether they will appeal the decision. Nevertheless, both copyright owners and people who think they may receive a letter from copyright owners should seek advice before embarking upon similar processes.