Intellectual Property in the Digital Information Age

From the birth of Napster in 1999 to the increase in use of torrents in recent years, our desire as internet users to have instant access to people’s intellectual property (IP) – especially creative product like films, music and TV shows – has never been stronger. We want instant gratification, whether it’s the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, the new Kendrick Lamar album or an advance copy of the Avengers movie, and are prepared to forsake a little bit of quality to just simply have it in our hands (or on our hard drives) ASAP. As an expert in IP rights, Glenn Duker, solicitor, is watching these developments with interest!


At the turn of the century, many big record companies and film and TV studios were slow to accept and adopt this new technology. They continued to stagger the commercial release of films and music in different territories of the world, sometimes up to months between regions. They failed to recognise that internet downloading was creating a global market in which Australians wanted to see a film or listen to an album at the same time as someone in the United States. And so a culture of illegal downloading emerged – great for the consumer who could have access to free music and movies at the click of a button; not so much for the IP rights holders who fast began losing money on sales. One film production company is fighting back – through the courts.


The Dallas Buyers Club vs iiNet

There has been a legal stoush brewing between local internet service provider iiNet and the producers of Academy Award winning film The Dallas Buyers Club. If you haven’t heard, here’s the background – Voltage Pictures, the producers of the film, used a programme called MaverickEye to track customers of iiNet and other ISPs including Dodo and Internode that had downloaded the movie via illegal torrent. The producers applied to the Australian courts to acquire the names of those customers, as iiNet has refused to supply them.

While the provider explicitly states that they don’t support or condone internet piracy, they contend that supplying the film producers with the details of their customers could set a precedent for ‘speculative invoicing’ (i.e. the producers telling the downloaders ‘pay us this amount and we won’t pursue you any further’). This hasn’t yet happened in the Australian court system and iiNet fears it could open the floodgates to similar moves by other IP rights holders.


Some final words

Intellectual property piracy isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to the internet age: In the 1980s and 90s people taped their favourite songs off the radio or recorded their favourite TV shows on their VCR. However, the increase in quality and ease of peer-to-peer distribution in the digital era, plus the initial inability of ‘big entertainment’ to control distribution on their own terms, has made it more of an issue than it was 30 years ago. What will be the final outcome of the Dallas Buyer’s Club case, and the implications for internet users in Australia?


Solicitor Glenn Duker is an experienced litigator and business law specialist who can assist with all intellectual property matters. Whether you’re the rights holder wanting to defend your IP or are being pursued by the rights holder, contact us to see how we can help you.


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