China Sentences Pirate Site Operators, Huge Win For Japan’s Anime Industry

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Three people arrested in China last year for operating major piracy site B9Good have been sentenced by a local court. Foreign companies face significant obstacles when attempting to enforce their rights in China but here, anti-piracy group CODA, acting for major Japanese anime rightsholders, came up with a novel strategy. The convictions of a pirate site operator and two uploaders are the first ever obtained by foreign rightsholders inside China.

b9good-sAnime piracy site B9Good first appeared way back in 2008, initially operating under B9DM branding. Defying the usual odds, 15 years later the site was still alive and kicking.

Last March, Japan-based anti-piracy group CODA reported an estimate of B9Good’s traffic for the two years running up to February 2023. Based in China, the site had been accessed more than 300 million times and, crucially, around 95% of those visits came from Japan, mostly seeking access to Japanese content.

The China Complication

Rightsholders based outside China have long complained that tackling infringers inside the country can be extremely difficult. Key obstacles include safe harbors for intermediaries viewed as overprotective, and the so-called server principle, which turns on where infringing content is hosted.

This means that when infringing apps, websites and set-top boxes linked directly to China utilize pirated content hosted overseas, foreign rightsholders have limited opportunities to enforce their rights against their operators inside the country.

That raises the question of how Japan-based anti-piracy group CODA, representing several major Japanese anime rightsholders, were able to convince Chinese authorities to shut down B9Good, arrest its operators, and then prosecute them for criminal offenses.

With Planning and Patience, China Became Less Complex

After revealing a few details in 2023 when B9Good was targeted and later shut down, this morning CODA put more meat on the bones. The details arrived as part of an announcement celebrating three first-of-their-kind convictions which, seemingly for legal reasons, CODA has been sitting on for a few weeks.

CODA says that its work against B9Good dates back to 2016 when it filed an administrative complaint in China. In response, however, a site operator referred to as ‘Man A’ implemented geo-blocking measures at B9Good, then operating as B9DM, to give the impression the site had shut down, while continuing to infringe everywhere else.

With the launch of CODA’s International Enforcement Project (CBEP) in 2021, the anti-piracy group set out to personally identify the operators of pirate sites. After being identified in China, B9Good’s operators would soon discover that the country’s borders offered less protection than before.

CODA Levels Up in China

In January 2022, CODA’s Beijing office was recognized as an NGO with legitimate standing to protect the rights of its members, which include anime rightsholders Aniplex, TV Tokyo, Toei Animation, Toho, Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), and Bandai Namco Film Works.

CODA filed a criminal complaint with the Public Security Bureau, and starting February 14, 2023, Chinese law enforcement began rounding up the B9Good team. In Jiangsu Province, a 33-year-old unemployed man was held on suspicion of operating B9Good. He was reportedly released a month later after confessing to his involvement. That led to the authorities seizing his home.

In the meantime, a 30-year-old woman living in Chengdu, a 38-year-old man from Shanghai, and a 34-year-old woman from Fuzhou City, were questioned at their homes. It was alleged that the women were paid by the site’s main operator to upload pirated content, while the man uploaded content to file-hosting sites to generate revenue from advertising. In total, 45,880 anime titles were made available via B9Good without permission from rightsholders.

Taizhou People’s Court Hands Down Sentences

On December 26, 2023, the People’s Court of Taizhou Pharmaceutical High-Tech Industrial Development Zone handed down three sentences. The main offender, Man A, was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for three years and six months. In addition to the seizure of his home, he was fined 1.8 million yuan (38 million yen, US$253,000), an amount equivalent to the ad revenue he earned through B9Good. The conviction is now final after the appeal period ended.

Female B, who was paid by Man A to upload pirated anime to the site, was sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for one year and six months, for copyright infringement offenses. Female D, who also received payment for uploading pirated anime, was sentenced to eight months in prison and one year’s probation.

According to CODA, Man C, who allegedly generated revenue from pirated anime uploaded to file-hosting sites, was not sentenced. CODA doesn’t go into detail other than reporting that he was “subject to exemption measures stipulated by China’s criminal law.”

Sentences May Disappoint, But Value Lies in Convictions

For deterrent purposes, it’s likely that CODA would’ve preferred immediate custodial sentences, but this wasn’t simply a routine case that failed to live up to expectations. Under normal circumstances, a case like this wouldn’t have even gotten off the ground, let alone end in convictions.

“In this judgment, the punishment was reduced to a suspended sentence and the conviction was decided based on the fact that Man A was a first-time offender and that he voluntarily confessed, acknowledged the crime, and showed a willingness to accept punishment,” CODA explains.

“However, this is the first time that criminal penalties have been imposed on the operators and uploaders of overseas pirated sites due to an approach from Japan. CODA hopes that the recent crackdown and judgment against such malicious sites will have a significant impact on deterring the operation of similar pirated sites.

“In response to online infringements, which are causing damage worldwide, CODA will continue to proactively develop countermeasures beyond national borders, even if their operations are based overseas, and will continue to eliminate unauthorized use of Japanese content,” CODA concludes.


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