Mininova and BREIN Clash in Court

The largest torrent indexer on the Internet defended itself in court today in a landmark case for the BitTorrent community. The outcome of the civil dispute between the anti-piracy group BREIN and Mininova will decide if the BitTorrent indexer has to actively filter torrents from the site.

Mininova, based in The Netherlands and founded by five Dutch students, was up against local anti-piracy outfit BREIN in court today. BREIN’s lawyer tried to convince the court that Mininova has to remove from their site any torrents linking to unauthorized content. It also demanded that Mininova should cover the costs of implementing such a system.

Mininova’s lawyer argued that the site is already taking measures to ensure rights holders can protect their content, and this amounts to more than they are required to do under the law. The site has a ‘notice and takedown’ policy and recently started offering an infohash filter where content owners can blacklist torrents.

The Mininova team working in their Utrecht office (photo richard.pyrker)

erik niek mininova

Mininova’s case against BREIN was heard at the Utrecht court. Three judges have been appointed to the case. One of them is a replacement for a judge who was taken off the case a few weeks ago because he was connected to the entertainment industry. The hearing started at 1 PM with BREIN’s lawyer Dirk Visser.

Visser began by informing the court that Mininova has over 5 million daily users who use the site to download copyrighted content. A brief look at the site’s homepage clearly shows that they link to illegal content, and their business models is to make money off the millions of ads that are displayed, he said.

Mininova’s attempt to offer a distribution platform to publishers through their “featured content” section is nonsense, BREIN’s lawyer insisted. According to research conducted by BREIN 92% of the torrents on Mininova point to ‘illegal’ content, and the tag cloud with popular searches also shows that illegal content is what people are mainly looking for on the site.

In 2006 and 2007 BREIN and Mininova had lengthy discussions on how to deal with copyrighted content, Visser said. Mininova wanted BREIN to come up with specific infohashes that should be in the filter, and BREIN wanted Mininova to cover the costs. They never reached an agreement and the negotiations ended.

All in all Visser is arguing that Mininova aids in distributing copyright infringing works, and BREIN demands that the site installs a filtering mechanism that will put an end to this. Mininova will have to cover the costs of such a copyright filter themselves, they say.

Next up was Mininova’s lawyer Vita Zwaan. She started out by informing the court that this is a landmark case because it’s the first to make a judgment about the legality of the BitTorrent platform in The Netherlands, pointing out that this case obviously has far reaching consequences.

Zwaan further told the court that, while the hearing was taking place, approximately 180 torrents would be added to the site’s database and that Mininova has no knowledge of the content currently tracked by these torrents. In addition Zwaan explained that Mininova has partnerships with content owners to distribute works though their distribution platform.

On top of this, Mininova offers several options for content owners to take ‘infringing’ torrents off the site, the lawyer explained. Together with the Motion Picture Association (MPA), Mininova started experimenting with a content filter through which torrents can taken off the site by the content owners.

The filter trial is a success according to Mininova’s lawyer, who quoted one of TorrentFreak’s recent articles to point this out. BREIN also had to option to participate in the filtering trial so they could see for themselves how it works, but BREIN rejected this offer.

It is unclear what BREIN’s demands actually are according to Zwaan. They want Mininova to implement “preventive measure” but are vague about the details. However, BREIN doesn’t want to provide the info-hashes for the torrents it wants removed, and argues that this is something Mininova should do themselves. This is the opposite of what the MPA (a member of BREIN) is doing now.

According to Mininova’s lawyer, this disagreement on who should provide information on what to filter is what the case is all about.

A keyword filter that was proposed by BREIN is unworkable according to Zwaan because it would result in too many false positives. A filter for the keyword ‘office’, as BREIN suggested, would result in the removal of 92 torrents linking to “Open Office” she said.

Mininova’s lawyer then discussed some of the costs Mininova made thus far to take down torrents upon request from copyright holders (though the old system). She said that 155,876 takedown requests have been reviewed which cost the site 250,000 euro ($350,000). In addition, Mininova invested several thousand euros in the content filter.

Zwaan went on to explain that Mininova is not a necessary nor sufficient part of the BitTorrent download process. Unlike The Pirate Bay they don’t host a public tracker, and neither do they offer a BitTorrent client through which users can download torrents. BREIN argued otherwise and this is incorrect Zwaan said.

Towards the end of her plea, Zwaan argued that Mininova is not infringing the rights of various copyright holders as BREIN stated. She cited several cases in and outside The Netherlands to make point out why, and pointed out that The Pirate Bay may not have been found guilty if they had a notice and takedown policy like Mininova has.

After a short break the hearing continued briefly and the judges asked both lawyers for clarification on some issues. Mininova’s lawyer was asked about the moderators that Mininova has, and why they remove porn but not copyrighted content. Mininova explained that the moderators handle problem reports from users (about virusses, porn, etc.), while the Mininova admins handle the copyright complaints. The site has around five moderators, a number which the changes from time to time.

After roughly three hours the hearing ended and it’s now up to the judges to come up with a decision. The verdict is due on July 15. Erik Dubbelboer and the other Mininova founders think they have the law on their side. “We have confidence in the outcome of the case and we believe Mininova will continue to exist,” Erik told TorrentFreak.

This is a developing story, info might be added.

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