In recent years the Popcorn Time application has gained popularity worldwide, mostly thanks to its ability to stream torrent files in a Netflix-style interface.
This development raised concern among many movie industry companies, who have been working hard to contain the threat by going after several forks and their developers.
Most recently, Norwegian rightholders reported a local Popcorn Time site to the local economic crime police. Responding to this referral, the authorities seized the Popcorn-Time.no domain name.
Unlike the name suggests, the site didn’t host the application itself but instead posted news articles, as well as links to sites that offered the application.
Many were surprised by the action and legal experts including Professor Olav Torvund of the Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law openly voiced their concerns.
Not only is the legality of the site debated, but also the use of a far-reaching measure without a proper judicial review.
Responding to these concerns, two digital rights groups have now filed a lawsuit against the authorities. Electronic Frontier Norway (EFN) and the Norwegian Unix User Group (NUUG) want the court to decide whether the domain seizure was appropriate.
“We feel that this is an important case that addresses the limits of free speech,” EFN’s managing director Tom Fredrik Blenning tells TorrentFreak.
“If this procedure is found to be legal, domain name seizures will make it possible for the police to shut down a forum based on mere suspicion that a site discusses potential illegal actions.”
As far as the digital rights groups are concerned the Popcorn-Time information site was operating legally.
But even if there are legitimate legal concerns, they believe that domain name seizures should only be applied in extreme cases where lives are at stake. This was certainly not the case here.
“The decision to seize the domain name was made by a low-ranking lawyer employed by the police,” Blenning says.
“Our position is that this decision may very well be wrong, but even if it is a correct decision, it is one that should be made by a judge in a court of law.”
Through the lawsuit the groups hope to answer two main questions. Firstly, was Popcorn-Time.no violating the law even though it only offered links to and information about the application.
Secondly, is a domain name seizure proportionate when it’s not obvious whether a website is actually breaking the law?
According to the two digital rights groups, the authorities clearly went too far. They hope that the court will agree and that similar broad enforcement measures can be prevented in the future.