Court Hands Movie Leakers Suspended Jail Sentences

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Six individuals accused of leaking a DVD screener of a movie to the Internet have been handed suspended jail sentences and fines of 15,000 euros. Three of the sentenced are employees of a major European TV channel. None of the six made any money from their actions.

The movie Les Bronzes 3 Amis Pour La Vie (Bronzés III, Friends for Life) was France’s biggest box-office success in 2006, going on to sell an impressive 10 million tickets. However, in March 2006 two copies of the movie leaked to the Internet, one credited to a group calling themselves ‘AcRoChE’ and another with no credit.

The Internet uploaders had managed to acquire a DVD screener of the movie from insiders at private TV channel TF1, one of Europe’s largest television channels. By November 2006 it was reported that police had begun making arrests, including some at TF1. Eventually, three employees of TF1 were detained, including two men aged 45 and 47 who admitted making a copy of the movie for their own private use.

Another three from outside the company using the nicknames Darkpingoo, H2o and Vb2n were also arrested for leaking the movie to Usenet, following a complaint by the video editors Union (SEV) and the distributor of the film.

The case was heard yesterday at the 15th Criminal Chamber of the Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI) in Paris. The court heard that the individuals didn’t profit from leaking the movie to the Internet but nevertheless, StudioCanal, the DVD publisher of the movie, was looking for stiff punishment. It demanded jail sentences of between 2 and 4 months for the six, claiming 13 million euros losses.

With lawyers for the prosecution branding the defendants a “Gang of Chihuahuas,” some actors in the movie demanded 1 million euros each in damages. The stars of the movie – Josiane Balasko, Thierry Lhermitte and Gerard Jugnot – requested a symbolic 1 euro each.

The prosecution said the leak was “helping to torpedo the cinema market,” but in their defense, the employees of TF1 Film Production argued that the practice of copying movies for personal use was tolerated at the company.

The court ruled that collectively the six defendants, aged 21 to 53 years old, must pay 15,000 euros damages to StudioCanal, but dismissed the multi-million Euro damages claim, issuing 1 month suspended jail sentences instead. The stars of the movie got their 1 euro each.

Recently, France has been gathering a reputation as being tough on Internet pirates, with President Sarkozy taking a very aggressive stance. According to Wikipedia, “key figures within TF1 are close friends to some of the most powerful politicians in France.”


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