After three and half long years the legal action against the once high-flying SceneTorrents private BitTorrent tracker has finally come to an end. Raids carried out by the Hollywood-backed Federation Against Copyright Theft with the assistance of the police back in 2009 netted two individuals who faced accusations of criminal copyright infringement, conspiracy to defraud and money laundering. During the last month, all efforts at prosecuting the individuals were brought to an end.
Having been established in 2005, the SceneTorrents (ScT) tracker was very well known in the BitTorrent community.
However, after four-and-a-half years of operation it all came to an end. On November 28, 2009, site members were informed that there were “pending legal issues” and with immediate effect the site would shut down.
What followed was an information vacuum. No one from the site made a public statement until TorrentFreak published an interview with an ex-admin of SceneTorrents at end of May 2011. The details of his story came as little surprise.
Police had arrived at “Feeling’s” house some 18 months earlier at 6am on November 27, 2009, accompanied by operatives from the Hollywood-backed Federation Against Copyright Theft. FACT had become more active in recent times, building cases against TV-Links and another torrent site, FileSoup.
“The police handcuffed me and arrested me for copyright theft and money laundering,” Feeling explained.
Down at the police station a familiar picture began to emerge. FACT, not the police, were running the show. They had carried out the investigation against SceneTorrents and the police were there merely as support, despite this being a criminal case with “six figure” sums allegedly at stake.
After being released, Feeling was told to answer bail in February 2010. Just two days before that date, police informed him that they were still waiting for a response from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on how to proceed. A new bail date was set for May 2010. That date was also canceled, as was a subsequent one arranged for July.
Feeling was told that by early 2011 things should be progressing but the year came – and went – with no decision from the CPS. However, in February of that year the Crown Prosecution Service were forced to drop the case against FileSoup. A sign of positive things to come?
As it turns out – yes.
Some three-and-a-half years after the original raids, TorrentFreak has learned of a significant development. According to sources close to the case, during the past month the police made the decision to drop all charges (criminal copyright infringement, conspiracy to defraud, money laundering) against both Feeling and a second individual who was arrested on the same day in 2009.
Intrigued as to how this conclusion was reached, TorrentFreak fired off questions to both FACT and lawyer David Cook, who we believed to have been defending at least one of the SceneTorrents admins.
Cook successfully defeated prosecutions in previous cases against both FileSoup and OiNK and was part of the pro-bono defense team acting for Richard O’Dwyer. He often chats about tech and copyright issues via Twitter but on this occasion declined to comment.
FACT did respond, however, initially questioning why we were interested in such an old case. We pointed out that we knew that in recent weeks the police had dropped the case but FACT said that both Feeling and the second defendant had instead been handed police cautions which “usually” means admitting guilt.
TorrentFreak is informed by sources very close to the investigation that neither admitted guilt and the police simply chose not to take matters further. So why has such a big case collapsed yet again?
A definitive answer to that is a matter for the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service, but one only has to look at earlier cases to see a repeating pattern of problematic behaviors.
FACT, a privately-owned commercial organization, conducted the investigations against both FileSoup and SceneTorrents and were later given possession of computer equipment and evidence seized when both sites were raided. This made them not only the alleged victim in the case, but also the prosecutor and expert witness.
Furthermore, TorrentFreak is informed that FACT’s presence on the sites (apparently at times in an “agent provocateur” role) and other evidential issues combined to play a role in the undermining of both cases, ultimately contributing to the decision by the Crown not to pursue the case.
With City of London Police now threatening torrent sites around the globe claiming that crimes are being carried out in the UK, one has to wonder what lessons have been learned from the cases of FileSoup and now SceneTorrents.
Considering four years have passed, with a successful prosecution of SurfTheChannel in the meantime, one has to presume that the answer to that is “quite a few.”