A French Court of Appeal has just upheld the sentencing of an administrator of two BitTorrent-related sites. Despite no evidence being presented that money was made from the sites through advertising as claimed – or even that any infringements had occurred – the admin now faces a $29,000 payout. Bizarrely, the Court decided that having the word ‘torrent’ in his sites’ URLs showed that he knew about infringements.
Following a complaint by the French rightsholder group SACEM, in June 2008 police arrested Blackistef, the administrator of two BitTorrent related sites; Torrentnews.net, a links forum and Torrent-public-center.com, a meta-search engine.
“I spent a day like a thief, locked in their cells filled with shit and even showered on the walls,” said Blackistef at the time. “A hole in the ground for a toilet (which you can not flush) and a single concrete bench.”
“There was an indescribable smell; the guys wrote their name on the walls with shit mixed with the remains of prison food. Even the SPCA [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] cages are cleaner and more humane!” he continued.
A year later in June 2009, Blackistef lost his case and was ordered by a court to pay SACEM 17,000 euros ($24,500) in damages plus costs. In addition Blackistef was given a four month suspended jail sentence. He immediately appealed the decision.
The Court of Appeal heard the case last month and upheld the decision of the original court, handing down the jail sentence plus damages and costs totalling some 20,000 euros ($29,000).
The Court rejected Blackistef’s defense that as a service provider or intermediary he should not be held responsible for material posted by users provided he complied with takedown requests. Instead the court took into account their belief that Blackistef had “knowledge of wrongful acts.”
Blackistef has since listed a number of important points from the trial, notably that claims from SACEM that he was making money from advertising on the site were incorrect. The banner ads complained about by SACEM were actually member signatures and the site had no advertising income at all. But perhaps more worrying are the revelations from court papers just obtained by French news outlet Numerama.
“The decision gives the impression of having been guided more by the desire to punish a state of mind, rather than by the strict application of the law or a rigorous analysis of the allegations,” editor Guillaume Champeau explains.
The papers include a statement from the Court which declares that “..the names of these sites [when they include the word 'torrent'] encourage illegal activity. Torrent sites are accessed by users of the BitTorrent protocol which has a main, if not unique purpose, of enabling downloading of copyright protected works.”
In a nutshell, having the word “torrent” in a domain name can be reason enough to presume bad intentions.
In respect of meta-search engine Torrent-public-center.com, the Court said that since it searched other sites such as Mininova, The Pirate Bay and isoHunt, this search engine was one dedicated to “unlawful downloading”.
Furthermore, Champeau notes that the Court was unable to establish from the evidence provided by SACEM that any unlawful downloads had occurred as a result of the sites’ existence.
Instead the Court decided to be rather more general in stating that Blackistef “created Internet sites contributing to the underground economy” and his actions “contributed to the destabilization of the economy of artistic creation” and must therefore be punished.
“The court clearly sided with SACEM with this ruling, ignoring all the defendant arguments,” Champeau told TorrentFreak. “It either did not fully understand the facts and misinterpreted the law that should have applied at least for the search engine part, or the court did it on purpose because it wanted the man sentenced so that it wouldn’t create a void other sites could enter into.”
Nevertheless, Blackistef says he has no money left to continue fighting SACEM and has now accepted his fate.
“The term ‘justice is for the rich’ is unfortunately not a myth,” he concludes.