Village Roadshow Promises To Mete Out Its Brand Of Justice As Inequitably As Possible

from the tipping-scales dept

Village Roadshow, an Australian film distributor, has always been something of a strange anomaly. Like many others in the copyright industries, the organization has embraced copyright trolling as a business model, even touting the kind of trolling-automation that has since seen so much backlash over its inherent collateral damage toll. On the other hand, Village Roadshow was also one of the few film distributors I’ve seen actually come out and state that windowed releases are really, really stupid. On the other, other hand, the distributor subsequently went ahead with windowed releases anyway.

Ambiguity appears to be somewhat in Village Roadshow’s DNA. So, perhaps it isn’t entirely surprising that upon announcing plans to take Australia back to the early 2000s by suing individuals for piracy, the company also made sure to inform the public that it will do so with almost perfect inequity.

Let’s start with Village Roadshow’s plan, which is essentially to ape the RIAA from the days of peer to peer filesharing. It was a strategy, it should be noted, that was dropped because it wasn’t particularly effective. But that isn’t going to stop Village Roadshow from giving it another go.

Many thousands of people were fined and the campaign raised awareness, but it did nothing to stop millions of file-sharers who continue to this day.

That’s something that Village Roadshow co-chief Graham Burke now wants to do something about. He says his company will effectively mimic the RIAA’s campaign of 14 years ago and begin suing Internet pirates Down Under. He told AFR that his company is already setting things up, ready to begin suing later in the year.

This plan will rely on ISPs to give up customer information, which will likely lead to a fight in Australian court. While the outcome of that fight is uncertain, it can be reliably claimed that what Village Roadshow actually wants is for pirates to pay fines to not go to court. This reads like classic copyright trolling, except that village Roadshow is making a great deal of noise about being prepared for actual lawsuits, while most copyright trolls avoid the courtroom at all (literal) costs. That won’t win them many fans in the public, if the American experience is anything to go on.

It’s perhaps in anticipation of that, however, that Village Roadshow commits its worst sin, although I am sure it thought it was going to win points with the following.

“We will identify people who are stealing our product, we will ask them do they have ill health or dire circumstances, and if they do and undertake to stop, we’ll drop the case,” Burke says.

While being upfront about such a policy has its pros and cons, Burke is also reducing his range of targets, particularly if likes to be seen as a man of his word, whenever those words were delivered. In March 2016, when he restated his intention to begin suing pirates, he also excluded some other groups from legal action.

“We don’t want to sue 16-year-olds or mums and dads,” Burke said. “It takes 18 months to go through the courts and all that does is make lawyers rich and clog the court system. It’s not effective.”

This says everything you need to know about how closely Village Roadshow’s plan intersects with actual justice. The concept of real justice rarely makes full exemptions for teenagers and parents, never mind the poor or ill. In criminal cases, sentencing guidelines may take those circumstances into consideration, but Burke is essentially saying that teenagers and the poor or ill get a free pass on copyright infringement. I am sure he thinks he’s going to win points of sympathy from the public with this stance, and perhaps he will, but he certainly should not. Either this plan is a valid form of combat against infringement or it isn’t, full stop. If your justice can’t survive the PR surrounding having it meted out against a poor teenager, then it isn’t justice at all.

It’s rent-seeking from those that can afford it, based, as always, on the flimsiest of evidence and predicated on the public being scared of actual lawsuits that Village Roadshow may actually want to file. That isn’t justice. It’s gross.

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Comments on “Village Roadshow Promises To Mete Out Its Brand Of Justice As Inequitably As Possible”

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

CEO: We’ll sue everyone!

ASSISTANT: Don’t that mean we’re gonna sue the poor and the sick?

CEO: …oh hell, you’re right. We’ll sue everyone but the poor and the sick!

ASSISTANT: Don’t that also mean kids what don’t know no better?

CEO: Right, right, we won’t sue the kids, either.

ASSISTANT: And won’t suing everyday people piss off everyone who already thinks we’re a bunch of assholes?

CEO: Oh hell, you’re right. Okay, we’ll only sue people who can afford to go up against us in court! Who does that leave?


CEO: …right, we’ll serve papers to ourselves in the morning.

Anonymous Coward says:

What about old people?

Burke is essentially saying that teenagers and the poor or ill get a free pass on copyright infringement. I am sure he thinks he’s going to win points of sympathy from the public with this stance, and perhaps he will, but he certainly should not.

What about the elderly? Last week the public seemed to think they deserve special treatment.

Anon says:


In Canada, if you sue and lose (or are sued and lose) typically you pay the other side’s legal bills. needless to say, frivolous lawsuits are only a characteristic of the very rich. (Think Donlad Trump, or Conrad Black before he crashed and burned and did time in jail…)

So I wonder what the attitude is in Australia. Of course, in any country, going to court to fight something when you know you will lose (he “Oscar Wilde defense”) is never a good strategy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Costs?

In Australia costs are more frequently awarded to whoever prevails but it is rarely 100%. But this doesn’t improve the situation much because, as the saying goes, you can beat the rap but you can’t beat the ride. So there’s loss of time, money etc. And, to speak plainly, many of the people targeted will actually be guilty of infringement so will feel the additional pressure to settle. I wouldn’t characterize these lawsuits as frivolous; they are ill-advised but many would have merit on legal grounds. It’s the lack of merit in economic and social terms that’s the problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

the biggest problem with this and all instances of this type is that it has been not just allowed but backed by politicians, courts and law enforcement! had there been some serious thought done before accepting the ‘back handers and/or brown envelopes’ as was undoubtedly the case, perhaps we now wouldn’t be in the position of the entire planet being in the complete control of the entertainment industries!! how fucking ridiculous a situation is this??

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Economics of a defense

Has anyone done a reasonably scientific study of the economics of the ‘pirate’ defense strategy? How much have the *AA’s spent on searching for and prosecuting ‘pirates’ over the years/decades? How much have they gained in the process, over the same time period if there was no ‘piracy’? What is the net result?

Then, a reasonable estimation of what they might have made via various venues such as public performance of such items, DVD/CD sales, streaming, etc., and vs the defense spending, what is the net result? Next would come some quantification of the impact of these items being available at the library, or the impact of these items being recorded off the air from TV or Radio broadcasts. This last item would have to be somehow show the impact of whatever publicity was ‘earned’ by such legitimate, non income, use of their products. If lots of people talk about something, then others will get curious, do they buy or wait for the ‘item’ to appear on radio or TV? If they do record it, do they keep it, or watch/listen and discard? Then a really tough one, if the choice was pay or not watch/listen (it isn’t if the item is broadcasted), how many would watch/listen if free vs not free?

How bad do these results have to be in order for them to understand? Except for the, (ahem) ‘pirate’ solution above, everything is legitimate and legal.

I am not against supporting artists and creators, but the *AA’s are neither. I don’t see using torrents as something much different than using a library or recording off the air, which is legal. If only there was a way to support artists/creators, but not the *AA’s?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Economics of a defense

If only there was a way to support artists/creators, but not the *AA’s?

There is, support those who self publish via whatever means they offer for people to support them.

One of the reason that the AA’s make loud noises about piracy is to discourage people from downloading any content, including that from those who self publish, and also try and make them think that supporting self publishers is supporting pirates.

DannyB (profile) says:

If at first you don't succeed . . .

. . . use a shorter bungee.

[effort to stop…] peer to peer filesharing. It was a strategy, it should be noted, that was dropped because it wasn’t particularly effective. But that isn’t going to stop Village Roadshow from giving it another go.

Back in the 1980’s "copy protection" was used. (A primitive form or DRM.) Then came an arms race in tools to counter DRM vs better DRM. Being ineffective at stopping piracy, but very effective at stopping paying customers, copy protection was eventually abandoned industry wide as a bad idea.

But come the turn of the century, and DRM is back. DVD copy protection was broken by a 14 year old kid. Other DRM keeps getting broken. Once again, it’s just an arms race.

So the RIAA tried suing its way to prosperity — even though they were already wildly prosperous. The result was a PR disaster. And rightly so.

So then the MPAA decided it was such a disaster that they should definitely get in on the fail and try suing everyone on the planet.

Then copyright trolls. Righthaven. Prenda. Both come to mind, but I know there were more.

So Village Roadshow. Remind me to never, ever again watch anything with their logo in it. Ever. I don’t care how good it is. There simply are other forms of entertainment. And more possible choices of material to watch, read or otherwise engage in than there are hours left in the remainder of one’s life.

Kronomex says:

Graham Burke is a moron! He’s always whining on and on ad nauseam about the evil pirates that seem to be infesting Australia. Village Roadshow, when you do some checking, is not helping to stem piracy of films by their very own business model.

Take the Captain Underpants movie as an example –

Village Roadshow in their wisdom and greed is releasing the film about three and a half months later, which magically happens to coincide with the Spring school holidays.

Another example, Detroit –

Being released just over three months later than the US and other countries.

The list can go on and on. Until such time as dinosaurs like Village Roadshow realise that they are, in a fairly large part, causing the “piracy plague” with shitty business practices then people will continue to make use of piracy.

Oh yes, almost forgot to mention the ticket prices –

I think people would agree the words “rip-off” apply. Family of four, including the horribly overpriced snacks, could cost upwards of, if not more, $150.00.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Graham Burke is Not a moron, that is the realm of our pollies. However, he does have a propensity to shoot himself regularly in both feet and kneecaps with his public statements.

I think he is aiming to get into Federal Politics where he will fit in nicely with the likes of Mr Malcolm Bligh Turnbull and Mr William Richard Shorten.

It is fortunate that, as a nation, we have such men and women leading us toward a bright and victorious future where we will rule the world as we go out as conquerors and being hailed as the heroes of the free world, bringing enlightenment to all nations. It is undoubtedly the manifest destiny of Australia to bring about a new world order and lead all nations into a time of peace, security and freedom from all that oppresses all men and women.

PaulT (profile) says:

“We don’t want to sue 16-year-olds or mums and dads”

I do wonder how he expects to avoid this. If following the US troll model, they’re solely going on IP addresses. These addresses do not identify individuals by definition, so they will need to go through some discovery to begin with. Assuming that Australian ISPs push back as they did in the US, this will require a court order, as they’re not just going to give out private information to whoever asks. This will involve a version of a “John Doe” lawsuit, meaning that they will be suing these people for at least some part of the process. As a bonus, the legal costs of doing this will already most likely be more than the individual actually costs the company, even if they are guilty and the lawsuit attempt stops when the demographic of the user is revealed.

“It’s not effective.”

Strange how he realises this, to the point of directly addressing the things that are effective in previous comments, but decides to go ahead with this anyway.

The kernel of truth here is that, of course, those groups of people usually don’t have a huge amount of personal disposable income. Which is often why they’re pirating in the first place. So, the solution is to sue other people to get the cash while avoiding people who they admit don’t have the cash to buy at their full price but will simultaneously claim they’re losing the full retail amount when they pirate.

I’m sure this makes sense somewhere in his head.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

These addresses do not identify individuals by definition, so they will need to go through some discovery to begin with.

Good point. And one has to wonder how Village Roadshow plans to handle this. If Brett Gibbs and Keith Lipscomb are anything to go by, copyright lawyers are both shit at doing any investigation, and/or eager to conveniently omit unfavorable data, hoping that judges and defendants just won’t check.

The last time a bunch of clowns tried to pull this shit in front of an Australian judge, the judge asked the clowns – Dallas Buyers Club – to put a deposit up front to make sure they were serious about making their claims for discovery. The clowns ran…

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