Many countries around the EU have taken a hostile stance towards those sharing content without permission. However, evidence suggests that the further east a pirate operates, the less likely he is to get in trouble.
As a result, pirates have free reign in a number of countries but as of this week, Croatia can be crossed off that list. Authorities there have just arrested their very first Internet pirate and it’s all over local media.
According to reports, police swooped on a 31-year-old resident of Rijeka, Croatia’s principal seaport and its third-largest city. The man was arrested following claims he’d been operating pirate site Filmovita since 2014.
While Filmovita may not be a huge player on the world stage, the site is extremely popular locally and is currently Croatia’s 47th most popular overall. The site’s Facebook page has more than 165,000 members.
Local authorities claim that the man published more than 1,250 movies with subtitles online. Via his site and promotion via Facebook, he earned around $89,000 in ad revenue, mainly from foreign companies.
Overall it’s claimed that the 31-year-old caused damages of more than $592,000 to local rights holders, although no evidence to back that up has been released. Vlaho Hrdalo, a lawyer from Zagreb, informs TF that despite the large numbers involved, a prosecution may not be straightforward.
“Croatia has a very special formulation in its Criminal Code which regulates that the prerequisite of an existence of a piracy-related felony is that there was excessive damage to the copyright holders,” Hrdalo explains.
“However, the prosecution will have problems proving that since they are claiming damage was done to local distributors. Furthermore, the site was not on a Croatian domain (.hr) but an international one (.com), which is why they will have to go to extreme lengths to prove it.”
In addition to the infringement charges, the individual is also accused of unlawfully accessing the Internet via a modem operated by a third person, believed to be a neighbor with insecure WiFi. Hrdalo says that this too could be on shaky ground.
“The site operator supposedly used his neighbor’s internet connection so that his IP address wouldn’t show up. Even if that is so, this doesn’t fall within the scope of Article 266 [Croatian Criminal Code] which says that a felony exists if someone gains unauthorized access to a ‘computer system or computer data’. Using other people’s WiFi does not represent the use of a ‘computer system or computer data’ and connecting to other people’s routers is certainly not a felony,” he explains.
Also under investigation is a woman in her late twenties, believed to be the man’s wife. She stands accused by the District Attorney of money laundering offenses. It’s alleged that together with her husband, the woman tried to hide the source of the site’s advertising revenue by shifting money between bank accounts.
Perhaps surprisingly given Croatia’s previous lack of interest in prosecuting pirates, authorities have chosen to detain the man in advance of his trial.
The detention was ordered to stop potential witnesses being influenced and further infringement, a move that has prompted local media to compare the arrested man with alleged KickassTorrents founder, Artem Vaulin. The woman, on the other hand, has been released.
For reasons that have not been made public, the arrest of the Filmovita’s alleged operator hasn’t affected the site itself. Despite being targeted by Croatia’s hi-tech crime unit, it remains operational through its usual URL.