Hollywood-backed anti-piracy outfit BREIN has won a landmark case against XS Networks, the former hosting provider of torrent site SumoTorrent. The Court of The Hague ruled that the provider is responsible for damages copyright holders suffered through the torrent site’s activities. The Dutch verdict has far-reaching implications for the liability of hosting providers for the conduct of their clients.
For years Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN has tried to find out who is behind the SumoTorrent website.
After being initially hosted in the Netherlands, the site moved to Canada to escape BREIN’s jurisdiction, but it later returned as a client of hosting provider XS Networks.
Having won cases against other torrent site hosters in the past, the anti-piracy group was quick to ask XS Networks to shut SumoTorrent down and hand over the personal details of its owner. XS Networks refused, however, and said it would only respond to a court order.
The provider and SumoTorrent eventually agreed to voluntarily hand over some personal details, but not before the torrent site had moved to a new host in the Ukraine. To make matters worse for BREIN, the personal details on record at the hosting provider turned out to be false.
So SumoTorrent “escaped” again.
According to BREIN the Dutch hosting provider was to blame for this outcome, and in response went on to sue the company earlier this year in pursuit of damages. BREIN argued that XS Networks acted negligently when it refused to take the site down when asked to do so.
Today the Court of The Hague handed down its verdict in which it sides with BREIN.
The Court ruled that SumoTorrent is clearly facilitating copyright infringement and states that XS Networks should have taken the site offline when BREIN asked them to.
“The unlawful characteristics of the (activities on) SumoTorrent were evident. Moreover they were obvious to XS Networks, or should have been obvious to XS Networks,” the verdict reads.
By keeping the site online, the Court adds, the provider acted unlawfully against the interests of copyright holders represented by BREIN.
Aside from thousands of euros in legal costs, the provider must now pay damages for the infringing content that was shared via SumoTorrent. How much XS Networks will have to pay is yet to be determined.
The Court also ordered XS Networks to hand over all personal information they have on the operator of SumoTorrent or pay a penalty of 10,000 euros a day.
The ruling is a crucial one concerning the liability of hosting providers for websites that are operated by their customers. According to the verdict groups representing copyright holders can demand websites be taken offline, and it’s then up to the provider to determine whether this request is legitimate.
In other words, providers themselves have to determine whether a site is facilitating copyright infringement, as opposed to the court.
With this ruling in hand BREIN can ask for the shutdown of any site they deem to be infringing, as well asking for the personal details of the site owner. Providers who refuse to cooperate will make themselves liable for damages caused by the website in question.
A dangerous precedent, both from privacy and censorship perspectives.