How Village Roadshow Plans To Sue Pirates

How Village Roadshow Plans To Sue Pirates
Image: <a href=''>Kritchanut</a> / iStockphoto

This week, Village Roadshow co-CEO Graham Burke announced the company will start suing Australians who infringe on its copyright. This means anyone who has streamed or downloaded a movie via an illegal pirate site is potentially in its cross hairs.

But when will litigation begin? Who will be targeted? And how much money will you need to pay? We spoke directly to Burke to get some answers.

It’s safe to say that the salad days of “free” online content are over. After years of taking piracy lying down, rights holders have declared war on Australian copyright infringers – and they appear to be getting results.

In December last year, Foxtel and Village Roadshow successfully lobbied the government to instruct ISPs to block five popular torrent sites from its customers. Since then, over 60 additional websites have been added to the blacklist, along with 250 related domain names. According to Burke, these sites account for approximately 95 per cent of criminal trade.

However, as we have explained in the past, these anti-piracy measures are laughably easy to circumvent, with most ISPs implementing a simple DNS block. Consequently, Village Roadshow is moving to sue copyright infringers on an individual basis.

Expect to be sued in 2017

Graham Burke – who is an old hand at battling copyright infringement – plans to start pursuing pirates for damages this year. The first infringement notices could be sent out as early as November.

“People who infringe [copyrighted movies] are people who steal – it’s theft and it’s not a victimless crime,” Burke said to Lifehacker. “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.”

Burke confirmed to Lifehacker that the penalty being sought will be in the region of $100 to $200 per infringement. This amount will include “damages” incurred by Village Roadshow.

“We’re talking the equivalent of a parking fine, but it establishes that [piracy] is theft and is the wrong thing to do.”

Burke said the current plan is to mail infringement notices to suspected pirates to inform them of the movie titles they are suspected of stealing. The recipient would then have the opportunity to pay up or plead extenuating circumstances. After assessing the response, Village Roadshow will then decide whether to take action.

Burke wanted to assure our readers that Village Roadshow would withdraw legal action in circumstances where the alleged infringer is suffering from financial hardship or ill health. (This appears to be a spot of preemptive damage control against the inevitable blacklash that occurs when corporations step on society’s downtrodden.)

“For people who are in dire circumstances, we will withdraw the action if [they] undertake not to steal in the future,” Burke said. “I think most people are pretty honest – you only have to look at the old-fashioned newspaper box where you took the newspaper and put the money in the slot. So we’ll be relying on people’s inherent honesty.”

The case for the courts

Before any litigation can take place, Village Roadshow will need to compel Australian ISPs to hand over the real names and addresses of suspected infringers. Burke said that Village Roadshow would not be engaging in “speculative invoicing”. This was the sticking point that derailed the Dallas Buyers Club court case in 2016, with rights holders refusing to agree on a specified amount for damages. By putting a fixed price on damages, Village Roadshow expects to receive minimal opposition from the presiding judge.

“The information we have at this stage is that we will be able to get the information we need through the courts, and ISPs will be compelled to play ball.”

This is significant. By avoiding the mistakes of Dallas Buyers Club LLC (DBC), Village Roadshow is far less likely to have its case thrown out of court. If given the green light to pursue pirates, Burke said it was “probable” that other rights holders will follow Village Roadshow’s lead. (You can bet your bottom dollar that Foxtel will be coming after Game Of Thrones pirates, for example.)

Of course, there is still the issue of VPN use, which essentially masks your IP address from outside snoopers. How does Village Roadshow intend to sue pirates when the most prolific offenders are untraceable? Burke admitted this was going to be a problem.

“It appears right now that there is no solution to people who use VPNs,” Burke admitted. “But I think technology will develop and there will be ways to detect these users eventually. It’s worth noting that people who use VPNs do have to pay for them and 40 per cent of [piracy sites] do have malware, so it’s a dangerous place to be in.”

” excerpt=”Australian pirates have just been put on notice. The chairman for Creative Content Australia – a consortium of rights holders that counts Foxtel, Village Roadshow and the Australian Screen Association (ASA) among its members – has issued a stern warning to anyone who continues to access pirated content. In short, you can expect to be sued this year.”]


    • I’d never heard of Red Dog before this post – Maybe this is just the latest viral marketing campaign to try and get people to watch movies to shitty for people to otherwise both with? Hahaa

  • Hey Graham, If you are reading this. I have this middle finger id love to show you. At the same time my VPN says hello.

    • Ummmm. Why? He’s just doing his job. And they’re not chasing people for thousands, or for jail terms.

      Seems pretty reasonable to me.

      • They’d be better off spending the millions in bringing contentvia streaming services rather than this. Lol

        Waste of money for them

  • So basically the less smart people will be the ones who get punished. While the real people who truly deserved the punishment will sit around gloating behind their VPN, while weakly justifying their piracy is ‘fair’ use. Insert excuses here. Sad but true.

    • Uh…..yes, we’re you expecting something different perhaps?
      Oh, did you think this was a moral issue and not just an extension of greed?

      It’s a damn fine way to conflate an issue that already has a solution though I suppose.

      • hah no, it basically has gone the way i thought it would.

        See at least the greedy Foxtel and highly questionable Village are basically acting exactly like you would expect them too. They are the devil you know. I don’t like what they do, but at least they are not pretending to give a- where as Pirates these days hide behind lie and excuse and justifications, time and again. Its always if X did Y then I wouldnt be FORCED to pirate.

        • What is wrong with the excuse and justification that I like free fnibbles and I have ways of acquiring said free fnibbles?

  • Burke said that Village Roadshow would not be engaging in “speculative invoicing”.I’ll call bullshit on that as the amount is between $100-$200 when the courts have said previously that it should be no more than the price of a DVD or movie ticket. Even adding “damages” to the price is in the same realm as speculative invoicing, just differently worded.

    plus I doubt any ISP is going to release private information about account holders as it would break the privacy act and contractual agreements between consumer and company. Thus opening up the ISP and Village to class action lawsuits.

    But most of us are smart and use a VPN, so fuck you Mr Burke

    • Genuinely interested in this – in what case did the courts suggest that it would only award damages to the cost of a DVD or movie ticket? Going to need a citation in this one because if true that’s a big precedent that might doom this from the start.

      • While I can’t remember the exact source, I think it was a comment from the judge during or just after the whole Dallas Buyers Club case.

        • I had a look through the most 2 recent cases and they only suggest what might be reasonable damages (which, in Parram J’s view, would not be the insane amounts DBC LLC were trying to claim). The damages seek to return that which was lost to the rights holder – Parram J suggests that this might even just be the rental price – but even that is subject to whether the film was available at all in Australia at the time of the infringement. Perram J even suggested that the cost of “discovering” the infringers (by trawling the torrent swarm) might be included as part of “damages”.

          None of it is really binding and none of this exclusives potential punitive damages, especially if multiple infringements can be shown. So the courts haven’t “said previously” that it “should be the cost of the DVD or movie ticket.” The idea of damages has yet to be properly tested for something like this, since DBC LLC were seeking the identity of iiNet customers for further action.

  • Pirating has never been about stealing. It’s been about availability. For the last few years, I’ve ended up paying my money direct to HBO and using a VPN just to watch Thrones on their overpriced, s’house service. I’ll also be buggered if I’m going to line Rupert’s pockets where I don’t have to.

    Another sign of the times. Orwell’s vision gets a little closer each day.

    • While i agree what you mean in that instance… it is ultimately about stealing, always has been, just the people who do it only see it through the prism of their own need. They pirate because for them it is about availability. By doing it they are stealing.

      Not sure how invoking Orwell here has a point? In this instance. Sure Big Brother is always watching but people choose and make choices, and this is about TELEVISION/MOVIES. Luxuries. Not a necessity for living. in 1984 and the like the liberties that are being (or have been) removed are fundamental to the human condition. While entertainment and joy are fundamental to survival, not sure refusing to wait eight weeks for Game of Thrones because ‘OMG someone might give out a spoiler’ are.

      • Sorry, that’s my fault. Seperate thoughts but I wasn’t very clear. My Orwellian criticism is an expansion of the censorship legislation and it being used to aspirationally slap around people who circumvent it. I agree that entertainment is a luxury, I lean towards the internet and freedom of movement within it as a right though.

      • It’s never been about stealing, because the owner isn’t deprived of the property. Piracy is copyright infringement and has never been more than that.

        • Was gonna say the same thing, those people are like flat-Earther’s.

          Doesn’t matter what the legality and technicality is, they still think it’s stealing and do not wish to be advised of otherwise.

        • the rights owners are being deprived of profit based on their chosen way to distribute their intellectual property. Pirates forget that while they download something, depending on their settings, they are helping others obtain that intellectual property through seeding. People who do a lot of pirating or the original uploading of the intellectual property are knowing distributing intellectual property on a grand scale, some are like a black market version of netflix, only with products they have no rights for. They dont just break the law but every time someone downloads their file they keep breaking it, over and over.

          That is stealing. Unless you think things end up on Netflix for free?

          • That is stealing.

            No, it isn’t. It’s infringement. Do not try and use the two interchangeably but it is not correct in any form.

            This is the last I’m saying of this for you and anyone else. Piracy is not stealing, period.

          • if you are taking a product from the service it was provided on, then made it available on another service you have STOLEN that product. that product is not yours to decide who receives it, and yes infringement is very much part of the whole thing, to debate one and not the other is a bit silly.

          • Dude, your own example doesn’t even show any sign of theft. What you have done is verified what @zombiejesus and I have claimed.

            Your example is a textbook class of enabling unauthorised access and distribution of a duplicate.

            The product has not been removed. The product is not made unavailable to others nor the original rights holder. The product is still there. The product is not stolen.

            The only thing silly here is how you continue to claim theft yet provide textbook cases of infringement and duplication without any removal of the object.

          • I agree that rights holders may be deprived of profit, if a person who otherwise would have purchased a licence pirated it instead. That doesn’t make it stealing though; as @wisehacker points out it’s infringement of the right of exploitation.

            It’s important that the terminology used is correct and doesn’t get diluted, otherwise you end up with words like ‘misogyny’ that have essentially lost their meaning and impact from misuse.

          • no just meaning of words change with time. you should look into words like awful, nice and silly. the very nature of language is that they are always evolving.

            the problem with terminology in this instance is the semantics are used to deflect the conversation from the point. Infringement, or theft are now but synonyms in this particular conversation, whether we like it or not. Some want to derail a conversation by pointing out the difference while ignoring the actual point.

          • No, @zombiejesus is right.

            The form has changed and the old wording no longer applies. There is no theft because a duplicate has been made.

            You are acting just like Burke himself. Do you not want to access the new form of today, you are trying to drag things back to how they are represented and understood in the past.

            Infringement is not now nor ever was synonyms. That is your incorrect interpretation of the current state of the art.

          • you know that using ‘bold’ doesnt make you any more right than without, dont you? maybe you should throw in some CAPS as well because clearly I am not getting it. Maybe some cursive script as well.

            I clearly meant synonyms in a colloquial way, not in a definition sense or legal.

          • @blakeavon

            you know that using ‘bold’ doesnt make you any more right than without, dont you?

            Wasn’t the intention. It was used for emphasis. Caps implies shouting.

            Also, when something is factually and objectively correct, it cannot be made more correct and I’m already in that state.

            clearly I am not getting it. Maybe some cursive script as well.

            Not a case of not getting it. You don’t want to get it. You don’t clearly mean anything. Your interpretation is incorrect and void.

          • Theft and copyright infringement being synonymous is a deliberate and manipulative push by select groups to equate a tort with a crime. Non-commercial copyright infringement is not a crime, it’s a tort (similar to breach of contract). Theft is a crime. The two aren’t comparable, and several US cases (eg. Dowling v United States) established that infringing copies of copyrighted work don’t constitute stolen property.

            I won’t accept that the words are synonymous and neither should you. This isn’t about evolving language, it’s about manipulation of perception.

          • who by the Lizard people, maybe the Illuminati? I was merely pointing out that in some people eyes (not members of a cabal) just general people in general conversation, they dismiss theft and try and sell the idea of infringement. As defence. I was merely saying that BOTH are true.

            I never said they were interchangeable just merely that some do

          • who by the Lizard people, maybe the Illuminati?

            I think we’re done trying to have a mature discussion with that user, Zombie. This user is not only beyond reasoning, he or she is choosing to not be reasoned with.

          • @blakeavon (and @wisehacker since you’re following the conversation)

            I assumed it would be obvious by whom. Elements of the film industry, such as Graham Burke and those he represents, make their money through business practices that –
            thanks to the advancement of technology – are now largely vestigial. Instead of adapting (eg. Netflix, Amazon), they cling to outmoded methods and try to force the world to stay in the past with them.

            This isn’t the first time they’ve exaggerated the ‘sins’ of the consumer. They attacked people recording movies and TV shows on their home video recorder. They attacked people who bought from overseas shops because price discrimination meant their own country was comparatively overcharged. Attacking downloaders is more of the same. In all three cases their narrative was to depict these people as bad harmful criminals, despite the fact that in all three cases no crime was committed, and in all three cases the problems they chose to attack were symptoms and not the cause.

            I could go into a lot more depth on what the cause actually is, but it boils down to availability, price and the equation of supply and demand. When suppliers artificially restrict either availability or price, they exert more power over the price equation than they’re entitled to, depriving consumers of their own rightful power. Consumers can and will find means to restore their power in response. The more companies try to exert excessive power over price or fight consumers for trying to take back that power, the more consumer responses like piracy will grow and thrive.

          • The meaning of words can change in a cultural sense but legal definitions are much more rigid.

    • For you that’s the case, Ive had arguments with people in the comment section for pirating stuff available on Netflix.
      Pirates will always pirate while it’s easier than other options. Even when those options are like Netflix and available for a reasonable price.

      • Well then I’ll gladly let Roadshow take them to the cleaners. I’m not sure what downloading just for the sake of hoarding digital content does for anyone … people are weird.

  • I think technology will develop and there will be ways to detect these users eventually.
    Yes because tracking technology will develop further over the years while privacy tech will just stagnate… ok Mr Burke, whatever helps you sleep at night.

    • And they wonder why we can’t take them seriously
      Technology passed these idiots years ago.

      – you only have to look at the old-fashioned newspaper box where you took the newspaper and put the money in the slot

      Case and point
      “Its just like that other thing that doesn’t bloody exist anymore because it became impractical and had to change!”

      • “Yeah. I’m not sure why people don’t don’t just buy the newspaper instead of stealing their news from the internet. It’s not our fault that there isn’t a convenient pay per view delivery method. Nowdays like the newspaper box. I mean, it’s not like people can just magically wire a few dollars down the phone line and we beam them back the content they want to watch when they want to watch it.”
        Let’s face it, the movie industry is actually based on selling popcorn for ridiculous prices and that’s why they reduse to take up new technology.

    • I’ve been wondering the freedom implications of this more that the pi**ing contest. Where in the terms and services, or the Australian Law is a private company allowed to access personal data of an individual from another private company?
      I mean I get it if the police were investigating with evidence, but the CEO of an organization has no rights to pull private information from another organization without the customer agreeing to it. Also in this case the ISP would need to taddle-tale on the infringement and the customer before the CEO can lay charges.
      So who’ll be the first ISP to hand over the probable cause to lay down the first fine?
      Which means the ISP is spying/reading on personal data transfer, meaning they could be dealing with trade secrets and all sorts of information siphoning. So they’d loose customers on a security hole front.
      Then there’s net neutrality, no company ever no-matter the price should have the ability to block a free information service. Who is relay running the country the elected government or village roadshow? What is stopping them from dis-allowing a competitors site from being added to the list on cause of copyright infringement?

  • I wonder if the irony is lost on Burke? I mean, he IS a total Burke (British slang for an idiot)!

    Its obvious he’s technologically incompetent. Proxies and VPNs don’t always “cost” and some can be quite decent. It takes less than three seconds to use a proxy link lol. Besides, hardcore users don’t use P2P anymore. Usenet and such has always been the pot of gold.

    Only 12 year olds downloading Disney movies are going to give a crap about this. I don’t condone stealing, but his arrogant, sanctimonious attitude makes me want to pirate behind a VPN just to spite him. Respecting users and making good content available at a decent price is how you combat piracy, not talking down to them and trying to sue them. What a complete and utter fool.

    • I wonder if the irony is lost on Burke? I mean, he IS a total Burke
      Including this guy I’ve known of three guys with the surname Burke (the others were a friend of my parents and an old history teacher), for all of which I’ve wondered that same thing 😛

  • If its that easy for a company to use the ISP data retention, then there is no hope for privacy, in fact there never was.

    I just couple weeks ago boosted my security…. spent 2 weeks installing shells and network barriers…. have finally settled on a medium. I suggest others do the same, such as anonymous browser, clearing cookies, not logging into google/facebook, changing seach engines to duck duck go, encrypting everything even email, VPN and hardware firewall PCs.

    I even tried a linux distros in a windows VMware and ran my browsing thru that, many sites were not able to detect anything

    check your data yo!

  • I said this before on Lifehacker so hopefully nobody minds if I say this again.

    When one looks at the situation, most (if not all) of the protest against pirates (and for the last time, pirated are not stealing anything, period), is not coming from the likes of Fox, HBO or the main rights holders themselves.

    Instead, it’s coming from Burke.

    We’ve seem this behaviour in cartoons. There is a character who is a washed up actor or actress and rather than get with the times the character just keeps screaming, “I’m still great!” and sits on his or her arse waiting for their big act to come begging on all fours.

    Burke is no different. But instead of being an actor, he’s a distributor for cinema. He still thinks he is vital. He doesn’t think he needs to change and is just expecting everyone to come to him.

    This is why he makes the claims he does. Such as piracy is stealing (which is its) and that the blocks have stopped 90% of pirates (which it hasn’t, they’ve just gone underground).

    He’s no idiot, just arrogant. He thinks that by trying to demonise piracy he will scare his customers back into his theatres.

    The world doesn’t work that way.

  • I have Netflix, FetchTV and see around 8 to 10 movies a year in a cinema. Any media I acquire by other means is simply an availability issue.

  • Gee, and I thought data retention was all about keeping us safe from terrorism and pedos!


  • Please. Are you serious?? Have you seen the state of tv recently? Most of this crap isnt worth it anyways. Goes for movies also. These stars get paid millions to “act” in a movie /tv show and the crap is bad. Some of the crap they should be paying US to watch.

  • From Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English ˈdeath throes noun [plural] 1 the final stages before something fails or ends The peace pact seems to be in its death throes. 2 sudden violent movements that people sometimes make when they are dying.

    • yeah the movie industry must be about to fall apart if its resorting to get another company to go after $200 infringements that are few and far between

  • My friend said he will do the old digital copy routine if they catch him (which is doubtful as he uses a VPN). As its a pretty solid move (if he can pull it off) since all the movies they claim he is stealing, don’t provide a digital copy, yet in America, the same copy of the movie does come with a digital copy, free. (he said Mad Max as an example and Amazon DOES sell a Blu-ray version WITH a free digital code, and it looks like the same distributor selling it there along with here).

    Will it work, who knows, but it’s a pretty big loophole when they say we should be buying these products and we get less of the product by doing so (and with digital distribution on the rise, the need for a digital copy is not something that should be optional if other countries get it).

    • Somewhere in the Telecommunications Act is a little bit of legislation that allows us to have a backup of any digital data we buy, or a reasonable facsimile of it. Its the basis for allowing format shifting here.

      I wonder how that works if you own a copy of a show or movie, and download a copy, which is ultimately just format shifting. Other Acts prevent you from bypassing DRM to get that copy (side question: which legislation rules?), but if its not YOU bypassing the DRM, I wonder where you stand legally.

      I think the format shifting legislation is a pretty big loophole as well, and would apply in your friends situation as well.

      • I have always heard the personal backup was false or never true, at least in Australia. But I might be wrong. However a good point is where do you get the ‘backup’ if they do encrypt (or whatever they do the Blu-rays to stop from ‘easily’ copying/ripping them) movies, how do you legally get a copy other then downloading them.

        So many questions like this :/

  • I always find the “piracy sites have malware” line pretty laughable. People who pirate things regularly know how to avoid that as easily as they avoid the blocks and having their IP shown.

    You can’t stop pirates, at best this will help VPN companies earn more cash.

  • Well, I have nothing to worry about from Village Roadshow Australia. Australian Movies and TV series are so bland and boring and consistently prove the word “Acting” has an extremely broad definition. I wouldn’t want to watch that garbage in the first place, so why would I want to pirate such shitty content like Australian Film and TV?

    But if Burke wants to play hardball, then us Aussies should class action him and his fellow rightsholders for blatantly overcharging us and holding most of the content back from Australians. It’s about time something was done to eliminate this fraud against Aussies since our government won’t do anything about it because they are in the pocket of these greedy rightsholders, we the people should band together and take a stand!

    And it’s about time Foxtel’s monopoly is broken so downward pressure can be placed on prices for pay-per-view content, allowing other PayTV alternatives to appear for competition and better prices, while Stan can show more content and Netflix can show all their content, not just <10% of it, as I am sure Netflix’s cat-and-mouse game to block most of the content from Australia is because of constant pressure from Foxtel to keep its stranglehold on Australia with a monopoly, by denying Aussies of competition and fair prices.

    I still remember when Telstra (Formerly Telecom) had a total monopoly on the phone scene, and when Optus first appeared the scare campaigns Telstra launched to desperately attempt to preserve their monopoly. Thank god that failed as I ditched Telstra NBN as I was sick of being charged $190.00-$250.00 per month because Telstra charges an extra monthly fee to have the downloads at their so-called maximum speeds, and another monthly fee to have the uploads uncapped too, plus the most expensive landline calls in Australia (like $0.50 per local call). Now I am with iiNet and get faster NBN without bandwidth throttling and free local calls for a fixed $110.00 per month. So here’s my middle finger to greedy companies like Telstra, Foxtel and the rest. Hell, if Telstra kept their monopoly then Bigpond would be the only option for internet and Telstra NBN would cost over $500.00 per month and local calls would cost $2.00 per minute, as there wouldn’t be any competition.

    Thank god for competition in the phone scene, now let’s see that same competition for movies TV series and Music! Give Australians all the content at the same time as everyone else, for the same price, and most of the piracy will die away (except for the hardcore thieves that don’t want to pay for anything, no matter how well they could afford it)

    Also, I prefer purchasing my movies and have a large and ever-increasing collection of Blu-rays (pirated movies don’t have the same quality as a good Blu-ray with DTS 5.1 surround sound, especially when you have a home theater with THX surround speakers to take advantage of this quality). The problem is some movies (particularly cult classics) I want to buy aren’t available locally and many sellers that have them on eBay and Amazon in the US and UK, don’t ship to Australia (they ship to every other country including New Zealand, but not Australia).

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