Ruling ushers in age of reason: downloaders fined cost of movie

Get caught downloading a movie illegally and you might be sent a nastygram demanding a very large sum of money from the studio behind the film. Movie studios allege damages and all sorts of other nonsense to extort large sums of money from someone who has pirated a movie — figures that greatly eclipse the actual cost of the film. A new legal case in Australia may set the precedent that changes that, however. It seems the pirates will simply pay the amount they'd have spent to buy the movie: $12.98.

The case has taken place in Australia, where in excess of 4,700 subscribers have found favor in the eyes of the Federal Court of Australia. The subscribers allegedly downloaded the movie Dallas Buyers Club, and according to AFR Weekend, it seems likely the movie watchers will be fined the price of the movie, plus a percentage of the legal costs (which will be divided among all the subscribers equally).

This is opposed to up to a $9,500 fine. In addition, the Australian court did not give customer details to the movie studios. The justice presiding over the case, Justice Nye Perram, said the downloaders could only be penalized up to the cost of a single copy of the movie and whatever their share of the legal fees are. Given the number of downloaders who have been accused, this could work out to less than $50 each.

As is the common practice, the company behind the movie reportedly sent US-based downloaders letters requiring $7,000 USD, and threatened to initiate legal action if they didn't pay up. The company reportedly also wanted to do this to downloaders based in Australia, and some ISPs in the nation were previously ordered to hand over account details.

In this latest legal case, however, the court called such letters "speculative invoicing", and made it clear it did not find the fee amounts being demanded acceptable, saying they are well beyond a "permissible demand". The court will allow the company to send letters to the subscribers in the future, but they must meet the new requirements that have been set forth.

Whether the studio will proceed to send revised demands to subscribers with the lowered sums is yet to be seen.