File-Sharing Site Admin Sentenced to 6 Months Jail

A 22 year old man who ran a site which offered links to copyright works has been fined and sentenced to 6 months jail in Spain. While non-commercial file-sharing sites are legal in Spain, the judge decided that because the site had advertising and therefore profited from copyright infringement, this constituted a criminal offense.

Back in September 2008 we reported on the case of Sharemula, a site which offered eDonkey links to movies, music, software and games. Like many file-sharing sites, Sharemula found itself the subject of legal action but eventually the Provincial Court of Madrid ruled that the entertainment industry had no case against the site since it has broken no laws. The court ruled that neither the site nor administrators had operated illegally by offering links to copyright works, since they had not done so for profit or commercial gain.

Yesterday, Spanish Criminal Court No.1 made its decision in the case of file-sharing site According to the complainants – Spanish Association of Publishers and Distributors Entertainment Software (ADESE) and the Spanish Videographic Union (UVE) – the site, which had around 17,300 members, operated illegally.

The site didn’t host any illicit content itself but instead offered links to video games, movies and music hosted on 3rd party sites. Under Spanish law, so far so good. However, in order to stay legal in Spain, the site needed to demonstrate it was not profiting from copyright infringement – this is where it all fell apart.

The court heard that the site carried advertising from Impresiones Web, Google Adsense, Canalmail and Correodirect and also gained revenue via premium SMS. According to the court, this turned the site from a legal entity into one profiting from copyright infringement – a criminal offense.

The judge handed 22 year-old site administrator Adrián Gómez Llorente a total fine of 4,900 euros ($6,500) which includes compensation for the complainants. Llorente was also sentenced to 6 months jail but it’s unlikely he will serve this since he doesn’t have an existing criminal record. It is believed that this is the first conviction of its type in Spain. Neither party intend to appeal.

ADESE President Alberto Gonzalez Lorca said of the decision, “This ruling is a very important precedent for the videogame industry which is at the forefront of creating jobs and wealth even in a financial crisis, but is helpless against a problem as serious as piracy.”

The big question now is how a court would view donations given to torrent sites. We’ve already seen the police in the UK call voluntary donations “subscriptions” in the OiNK case. Time will tell how a Spanish court will view them.

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