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John Doe Lawsuits Appear Headed to Australia

A pair of New Zealand-born brothers are inching toward end-user litigation in Australia, and may target adult as well as mainstream movie pirates

John Doe Lawsuits Appear Headed to Australia

AUSTRALIA—There will be a certainly irony to the fact that porn pirates will soon likely be prosecuted in Australia. The irony comes from the fact that Australia, as much as any Western democracy, officially frowns upon porn so much that it requires people to declare it when they enter the country. In other words, the country that intimidates people into getting their porn in less than legitimate ways may soon allow them to be sued for illegal downloads. It almost makes you feel bad for the pirates.

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For a fascinating look into the bipolar manner in which the Australians deal with porn, as well as the nascent John Doe litigation model that appears to be planned for the country, Karl Quinn at The Age has written a lengthy article titled Playing Dirty that connects the activities of a pair of thirtysomething New Zealand-born brothers and a Los Angeles-based film distribution company owned by Boulder, Colorado-based New Frontier Media, which is traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange as NOOF.

The brothers, Matthew and Richard Chapman, are the directors of a Gold Coast-based outfit called Movie Rights Group, which like its cousins in the United States and other countries, provides copyright owners with “a unique range of solutions to protect and enforce their rights, including but not limited to Copyrighting, Ongoing Protection, Monetization, Law Suits, Collections and Settlements.” The homepage also contains a handy Settle Your Lawsuit link.

According to the company’s About Us page, “The Directors of Movie Rights Group have been operating successfully within the online industry for over 15 years and are well known and respected by many major Studios and Content Producers.”

Contrary to the 15 years claim, though, the company, which is based in Queensland, was registered in November 2010, according to the article, and was flying well below the radar until it “came to public notice this month when the CEO of an Australian internet service provider mentioned on his blog the first step in a legal action that could have massive ramifications.

“John Linton, boss of Exetel, wrote on October 1 that a Brisbane law firm acting on behalf of Movie Rights Group had written to him requesting the account details of 150 customers who had allegedly downloaded the movie Kill The Irishman in May,” the article states. “The firm had also written to other ISPs, including Telstra, iiNet and Internode; in total, Linton wrote, Movie Rights Group had a target list of about 9000 Australian IP addresses.”

To anyone following the John Doe end-user litigation as it is being practiced in the States, those inquiries are all too familiar and indicative of a brewing campaign to stick it to Australian pirates of copyrighted content.

But the Chapman plot has a few more twists and turns. Quinn dug even further into the inner workings of the brothers business, and discovered the connection between Movie Right Group, Kill The Irishman distributor Lightning Entertainment and Lightning’s parent company, New Frontier Media.

The theory as postulated in the article is that the current attempts to hold people accountable for illegally downloading mainstream movies will quickly morph into doing the same with adult fare.

According to Sarah Cameron, an intellectual property lawyer at MDP McDonald Partners queried for the article, “Once a legal precedent has been set allowing the owner of copyright in a mainstream film to access personal information about a large, anonymous group that same precedent will then apply to owners of copyright in less mainstream works, including porn.”

As readers of AVN well know, New Frontier Media has been a leading distributor of branded adult content to cable and satellite companies for many years. It would surprise no one if the company was interested in protecting its content from pirates in Australia or any other country where such activity is taking place.

However, the somewhat conspiratorial tone of The Age piece may be due to the fact that no such litigation or ISP demands have yet taken place in Australia. Also, the Chapman brothers, who as mentioned have kept a low profile, are also more or less “outed” in the article as porn moguls in their own right.

“If it is indeed their intention,” writes Quinn, “the Clapham brothers would be well placed to lead an assault on porn pirates. Although little known, they are major players in the internet porn industry through their companies Internet Media Productions and Hyperfocus Media—both of which are registered to Matthew's Gold Coast home—and a string of associated entities based overseas.”

Like many companies in the industry, they have moved their porn operations, spread among three or so companies, to Cyprus after moving them to London and then back to Australia. Understandable moves, considering the current anti-porn sentiment in the U.K. and Australia. According to the article, however, the brothers’ history in porn includes some iffy practices

“The brothers' involvement with porn dates back to the late 1990s when their New Zealand company C.M.R. Productions—trading as Cosmo Media Online—hosted websites such as passwordhq.com, which promised customers access to paid-content porn sites via 'hacked’ passwords,” writes Quinn. “They appear to have divested most of those domain names, though they still control wildpass.com, through an entity called Callstar Enterprises, which is based in Cyprus.

“An information page for Callstar reveals it to be the parent of 68 pornographic sites with clear connections to the Claphams or parties closely associated with them. A second company, Marson Investments, is the parent of another 49.”

Despite the possible funny business, The Age reports that it has found no law enforcement agency that has ever investigated the brothers or any of their companies, and no inference that they have engaged in any illegal activity.

That said, even The Age’s Quinn recognizes the ironies contained in this story. “For years,” he writes, “[the brothers] have profited handsomely from the murkier side of the entertainment industry without ever drawing much attention to themselves. It is only now that they have assumed the guise of staunch defenders of the mainstream film business that we even know they exist.”

Many more Aussies may soon regretfully come to know them, as well.






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Tom Hymes

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