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Melbourne drag queen takes on Foxtel after legal threat

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If Game of Thrones fans thought they were getting a raw deal with Foxtel, spare a thought for fans of reality competition hit RuPaul’s Drag Race.

The show is credited with bringing underground drag culture to the masses and creating an international community of queer misfits devoted to the art of drag. It was last month nominated for its first Emmy Award.

But for Australian fans, getting in on the celebration isn’t easy. Foxtel has the exclusive screening rights for the program in Australia, which it airs a month after episodes premiere in the US.

For Australians who are part of that international community, social media spoilers are impossible to avoid for a full month. Many local fans have either streamed episodes from the US, using a VPN, or have downloaded them via a peer-to-peer sharing service such as Bit Torrent. According to Foxtel, the use of a VPN service for these purposes is illegal, and using a peer-to-peer service to download Drag Race is a breach of copyright.

Earlier this year, Foxtel’s legal team sent Melbourne drag queen Karen From Finance an email demanding she shut down her viewing parties of the eighth season of the show.

“I started a screening party in my backyard in Carlton for season six [in 2014],” Karen told Daily Review. “I started it because amongst my circles, RuPaul’s Drag Race was very popular, but we all struggled to find streaming links each week to watch the show. By getting together and using all of our resources, we were able to find a link each week, and we screened the shows through a projector in our backyard and onto a bed sheet, which we hung in the alleyway.”

Over the course of the season, more and more fans started to join the parties, dressing up to the theme of the episode. By the end of the season, over 100 fans were interested, so the finale was moved to a pub that could fit more people.

“I didn’t make any money off it,” Karen said. “It was just a great way for the community to catch up during the week, away from DJs and loud music, and just socialise. We became very close friends, and made new friendships.”

The free screenings continued for all of the seventh season, but Foxtel shut the party down in March this year, when it moved to the Curtin Bandroom on Lygon Street.

Now Karen is campaigning for Foxtel to fast-track the episodes, so that fans aren’t forced to wait several weeks after the US to see the show.

In an open letter, she wrote: “To us, RuPaul’s Drag Race is like the Olympics. At the moment whenever I turn on the TV, all I see is the Olympics. I’m sure sporting spectators across the country would not be willing to ignore the Olympics for 6 weeks and wait until a station would air it.”

Next week, the second “All-Stars” season of Drag Race kicks off in the US next week, but Foxtel hasn’t confirmed any local airing details. The season features 10 fan favourite drag queens (pictured above) competing against each other another.

Many of the contestants have travelled to Australia to perform hugely popular live shows. One contestant, Detox, has already shared Karen’s letter and voiced her support.

Foxtel also holds exclusive Australian screening rights for HBO hit Game of Thrones, the most pirated TV show in Australia. Earlier this year, HBO began sending warning letters to Australians who had downloaded the series via a peer-to-peer service. Unlike Drag Race, the Game of Thrones is “fast-tracked” to Foxtel, and new episodes premiere in Australia as they premiere in the US.

Karen won’t be holding viewing parties for the All Stars season of Drag Race, but hopes that the powers that be at Foxtel will see fit to fast-track the show.

Drag Race is so popular now that on the day of the screening, you cannot go anywhere near social media or you will have the results spoiled and ruined for you. Nobody waits to watch it on Foxtel.”

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