For almost a decade, an anti-piracy group in Greece has been trying to bring the elusive operator of pirate sites to justice.
EPOE protects the rights of entertainment industry companies including those in the film and television sectors. It filed criminal prosecutions against the alleged operator of the site Greekstars four times since 2009 but the processes were never straightforward.
According to EPOE, each time a complaint was filed, the operator closed down his site and then reappeared under new domain names, which were variations on the original Greekstar branding. The final criminal action was filed way back in 2012 but has taken years to come to a conclusion. Now, however, it is all over.
After a legal process of years, in November an Athens court rejected the defendant’s protests of innocence, including that he was simply a user of the sites in question and had been wrongly accused.
The court found the man guilty of criminal copyright infringement and sentenced him to five years in prison for running sites including Greekstars.net and Greekstars.co. He had previously been found guilty of running a pirate site located at Greekstars.biz. All of the sites linked to pirated content hosted on other platforms.
This is the first time that an individual has been sent to prison for running a pirate site in Greece, a landmark event according to EPOE spokesperson Theodoros Petsinis.
“This convicted criminal had been sued four times by us. Each time a lawsuit was filed and the investigation was initiated, he would change his domain name, that is, the name of the website, and continue illegal distribution,” Petsinis told local media. “Identical content with another website name. He has been elusive for four years sharing movies, music, books and video games.”
According to Petsinis, the presiding judges decided not to levy a fine as part of the man’s punishment due to “mitigating factors”, including that fining someone already in prison would be “meaningless”.
While this first prison sentence is a key moment for Greece’s entertainment companies, the problem of piracy in the country is far from solved. EPOE believes there are between 40 and 50 sites active in the country, with around five attracting the most traffic.
The anti-piracy group previously entered a request for 38 domains to be blocked by ISPs but Petsinis complains that most of the sites simply changed their domains, effectively out-maneuvering the action. And, despite the efforts, Greece remains under the scrutiny of the United States for not doing enough to counter copyright infringement.
In its latest Special 301 Report (pdf), the USTR opted to keep Greece on the ‘Watch List’. It accused the government itself of using unlicensed software while conducting ineffective IP investigations and prosecutions. The USTR also criticized the country for having “persistent problems with criminal enforcement delays”, which could certainly apply to the Greekstars case.
However, with this five-year prison sentence, Greece does seem to have addressed the complaints from the US that the scale of sentences for persistent large-scale copyright infringers is “insufficient”.