Pirate Site Operators’ Jail Sentences Overturned By Court of Appeal
Four men sentenced last year for their part in running several pirate sites have been told they will no longer have to spend time behind bars. After being ordered to spend up to ten months in prison, the court of appeal has now decided that for their activities on Dreamfilm, TFplay, Tankafetast and PirateHub, the men should walk free but pay increased damages to the entertainment industries.
Unlike The Pirate Bay which uses torrents, Dreamfilm was a portal for streaming content and it quickly grew alongside the now-defunct Swefilmer to dominate the local illicit in-browser viewing sector. But after impressive growth, things came to a sudden halt.
In January 2015, Dreamfilm announced that the site would be shut down after one of its administrators was detained by the authorities and interrogated. A month later, several more Sweden-based sites went down including the country’s second largest torrent site Tankefetast, torrent site PirateHub, and streaming portal Tankefetast Play (TFPlay).
Anti-piracy group Rights Alliance described the four-site networks as one of “Europe’s leading players for illegal file sharing and streaming.”
Image published by Dreamfilm after the raid
After admitting they’d been involved in the sites but insisting they’d committed no crimes, last year four men aged between 21 and 31-years-old appeared in court charged with copyright infringement. It didn’t go well.
The Linköping District Court found them guilty and decided they should all go to prison, with the then 23-year-old founder receiving the harshest sentence of 10 months, a member of the Pirate Party who reportedly handled advertising receiving 8 months, and two others getting six months each. On top, they were ordered to pay damages of SEK 1,000,000 ($122,330) to film industry plaintiffs.
Like many similar cases in Sweden, the case went to appeal and late last week the court handed down its decision which amends the earlier decision in several ways.
Firstly, the Hovrätten (Court of Appeals) agreed that with the District Court’s ruling that the defendants had used dreamfilm.se, tfplay.org, tankafetast.com and piratehub.net as platforms to deliver movies stored on Russian servers to the public.
One defendant owned the domains, another worked as a site supervisor, while the other pair worked as a programmer and in server acquisition, the Court said.
Dagens Juridik reports that the defendants argued that the websites were not a prerequisite for people to access the films, and therefore they had not been made available to a new market.
However, the Court of Appeal agreed with the District Court’s assessment that the links meant that the movies had been made available to a “new audience”, which under EU law means that a copyright infringement had been committed. As far as the samples presented in the case would allow, the men were found to have committed between 45 and 118 breaches of copyright law.
The Court also found that the website operation had a clear financial motive, delivering movies to the public for free while earning money from advertising.
While agreeing with the District Court on most points, the Court of Appeals decided to boost the damages award from SEK 1,000,000 ($122,330) to SEK 4,250,000 ($519,902). However, there was much better news in respect of the prison sentences.
Taking into consideration the young age of the men (who before this case had no criminal records) and the unlikely event that they would offend again, the Court decided that none would have to go to prison as previously determined.
Instead, all of the men were handed conditional sentences with two ordered to pay daily fines, which are penalties based on the offender’s daily personal income.
Last week it was reported that Sweden is preparing to take a tougher line with large-scale online copyright infringers. Proposals currently with the government foresee a new crime of “gross infringement” under both copyright and trademark law, which could lead to sentences of up to six years in prison.