Voltage, which owns the Oscar winning movies The Hurt Locker and Dallas Buyer’s Club, recently obtained orders forcing several Canadian ISPs to give it the names and addresses of customers linked to IP addresses used to illegally download the movies.  

And the timing couldn’t have been better.  The latest piracy technology, Popcorn Time, which lets you illegally stream films instead of having to wait around until they finish downloading illegally, is set to make a huge impact on the film industry.

What about Australia? 

Seeking orders for ISPs to provide customer information has been popularised in the US and Europe and is now spreading to other parts of the world.  

So, are we next? 

Australia has similar rules to those in Canada which allowed Voltage to obtain the personal details of potential infringers.  These rules are designed to allow movie studios to obtain information from another person to identify a potential defendant.  

The Canadian Courts think that if an ISP has information which could help a movie studio track down an infringer, then it’s a completely legitimate use of the rules.  We think that Australian Courts will agree.

There are critics, of course, who point to mass litigation and breaches of privacy.  But movie studios maintain that the goal of this exercise is to stamp out piracy and the law doesn’t give them any other options.

As for privacy, the rules say that you can’t give out someone’s personal information voluntarily.  However, a Court can override that.  

The Courts haven’t ignored privacy concerns in making orders against ISPs.  They try to balance the interests of movie studios against the privacy rights of potential infringers.  

In Voltage’s case, it only asked for the names and addresses of customers.  It also helped that the ISPs didn’t put up a fuss and were content to leave the decision up to the Court.  

We have a sneaking suspicion that ISPs in Australia may put up more of a fight.  But given the trend in the US, the UK and Canada, it’s likely to be futile.  As long as the movie studios don’t ask for personal information like birth dates or blood types, we think they stand a pretty good chance.