Inside The Bulgarian BitTorrent Crackdown

Last month we reported on the media announcement by Bulgarian police that they would shut down the country's two largest BitTorrent trackers, Zamunda.net and ArenaBG. As with any story, there always two sides. TorrentFreak caught up with someone with inside knowledge of the trackers and the scene in general, for their take on the situation.

bulgariaLast week a memorandum was signed by Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry and the IFPI which effectively declared war on music piracy in the country.

Within days Yavor Kolev, the head of Bulgaria’s Computer Crimes Department, announced on TV that he would take harsh action against BitTorrent sites. He confirmed that his first two targets would be the country’s largest trackers.

“We will shut down Zamunda and Arena BG and their servers that supply pirated movies and music and take money from their users via premium SMS,” Kolev told the media along with various other claims about the sites and how they operate.

TorrentFreak managed to make contact with someone with close connections to one of the sites who told us that in the week leading up to Kolev’s announcement, there had been an intense level of anti-filesharing “propaganda” in the media.

Furthermore, the aforementioned memorandum appears to be secret, so it’s unclear exactly what was agreed with the music industry. While it seems that a “3 strikes” option may have been included, Kolev went out of his way to say that torrent site users would not be a target.

There are also several other apparent contradictions or even errors in the police statements. Kolev stated that the Computer Crimes Department will only be going after sites that generate revenue from premium SMS memberships. However, neither ArenaBG nor Zamunda.net generate income in this manner – both sites are sustained by advertising.

So are there many other torrent sites operating with SMS payments? We are informed that there aren’t. Once sites found out years ago that SMS payments made them a target for legal action, they were quickly removed and now the majority of sites operate within boundaries that should, in theory, keep them on the right side of the law. We are informed that part of the original case against ArenaBG was based on the existence of a paid VIP membership (it was still possible to be a regular member for free) but that system is now long gone.

There are police cases pending against both Zamunda and ArenaBG for 4 years now and yet they are still operating. Hoping that these will result in a closure of the sites seems optimistic. TorrentFreak is informed that both cases have reached a complete dead end because there is zero evidence against any Bulgarian citizen. Since those raids a few smaller “home-operated” trackers have been intimidated to close down but no further action has been taken against Zamunda or ArenaBG.

It is also interesting that both trackers have chosen to implement a policy of rights holder co-operation and are actively removing torrents on request, but we’re informed that rights holders seldom use this facility on either site.

The other line of attack increasingly being used to go after file-sharing sites is to intimidate ISPs, so could this be used in Bulgaria? Our contact tells that the police have extensive powers to confiscate equipment to check for “illegal activity” and that the country’s largest ISP has a record of complying with government requests whether they have a basis in law or not. Somewhat of an uncertain climate it seems.

So what does the future hold for the average Bulgarian file-sharer? In his announcements, Kolev stated that the ordinary file-sharer need not be concerned, promising that if people download for personal use, they will not be persecuted. IFPI, on the other hand, would love “3 Strikes”…

All in all the situation seems as clear as mud. Both Zamunda and ArenaBG are going strong and believe there is no legal basis to close them down under current copyright law, and regular file-sharers have almost been assured of immunity by the police. The key is probably in the ‘secret’ memorandum – time will tell if mere mortals will get to see it.

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