Lithuania’s €140 Piracy ‘Fines’ Will Pay Off, Lawyer Says

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In an effort to tackle online piracy, Lithuania has started issuing fines to online pirates. Thus far, fifty people have been handed a €140 fine, mostly for sharing pirated movies on the private torrent tracker Linkomanija. According to a local lawyer, these measures will reduce piracy, but traffic to the country's largest torrent site seems unaffected.

While streaming piracy dominates in many parts of the world, quite a few Lithuanians prefer sharing content using BitTorrent instead.

Private torrent tracker Linkomanija is often the top choice. The site has been around for two decades and has weathered many storms, including a high-profile lawsuit from Microsoft.

The tracker’s users have also been called out repeatedly. Fourteen years ago, local anti-piracy outfit LANVA reported the IP-addresses of 106 Linkomanija users to the police with a request to take action. In response, the tracker’s operator reported the anti-piracy group to the police for illegally accessing its tracker.

As far as we know, these early moves didn’t result in prosecutions. LANVA’s boss was eventually jailed for drug trafficking, but that had little to do with the group’s anti-piracy efforts or its support from rightsholders.

Today, there’s no trace of the infamous anti-piracy group, but that doesn’t mean that Linkomanija and its users are no longer at risk. The private tracker is currently blocked by Lithuania’s largest ISPs and its users are still being tracked.

€140 Piracy ‘Fines’

A breakthrough came last summer when Lithuania amended its Code of Administrative Offenses, allowing media watchdog LRTK to fine pirates, without going to court. In the months that followed, dozens of fines were handed out, almost exclusively to Linkomanija users.

The targets were first time offenders and all received the minimum fine of 140 euros. For repeat offenses, fines can potentially reach 600 euros.

According to our calculations, thirty people have been fined so far. However, a local news report from LRT mentions “around 50 people.” What’s clear, however, is that users of the ‘private’ torrent tracker are being watched.

“We can see them and their IP addresses and we cooperate with internet service providers to obtain information,” Vadimas Gasperskijus, spokesman for the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission told LRT.

Those caught will get a chance to explain why their IP-address is showing up in these ‘pirate’ swarms. After taking in that information, the commission decides whether a fine is appropriate.

Piracy Reduction?

The Lithuanian system is fairly unique and, on paper, it should act as a reasonable deterrent against some casual downloaders. But will seasoned torrent tracker users go legal too?

Lithuanian lawyer Andrius Iškauskas, who represented several copyright holders in court, believes that the current measures are sufficient to put a dent in the country’s high piracy rates.

“The government has made it very clear to its citizens that no, we do not tolerate piracy,” Iškauskas says. “And I think that, alongside other measures, it was a logical step that fits well into the overall anti-piracy effort and will reduce piracy.”

This positive outlook isn’t directly backed up by numbers. According to a recent report from the EU Intellectual Property Office, Lithuania remains in the top three pirating countries. However, these data were gathered before any fines were issued; the next version should provide more clarity.

Linkomanija vs. Netflix

There are some other public stats we can use as an early gauge though. Looking at the number of visits to Linkomanija between September and November last year, we see little change.

The traffic numbers for Lithuania’s most popular torrent site, as reported by SimilarWeb, are steady at around 1.7 million visits per month. That’s a sizable number since the country’s population is under three million.

While it makes sense that the thirty or fifty ‘fined’ users are no longer openly downloading content from Linkomanija today, there’s certainly no mass exodus visible at the site.

Luckily, there are some positive numbers for rightsholders as well. The use of legal streaming services is on the rise in Lithuania. The number of Netflix subscribers, for example, increased from 84,000 in the first half of 2022, to 90,000 a year later.

Then again, Linkonanija has more than 300,000 users according to the most recent count we’ve seen, so there is still some progress to make there.


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