Private Torrent Site Legal Battle Heard By Court of Appeal

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A super-aggressive prosecution of a private torrent site operator which concluded with a relatively light sentence for the accused is now back on again at the court of appeal. The case against SwePiracy has been running for more than five years but neither side is happy with last year's verdict.

Founded way back in 2006, SwePiracy grew to become one of the most famous private torrent sites on the Swedish scene. Needless to say, it also became a target for anti-piracy outfits.

Six years after its debut and following an investigation by anti-piracy group Antipiratbyrån (now Rights Alliance), during 2012 police in Sweden and the Netherlands cooperated to shut down the site and arrest its operator.

In early 2016, more than four years on, SwePiracy’s then 25-year-old operator appeared in court to answer charges relating to the unlawful distribution of a sample 27 movies between March 2011 and February 2012. The prosecution demanded several years in prison and nearly $3.13 million (25 million kronor) in damages.

SwePiracy defense lawyer Per E. Samuelsson, who previously took part in The Pirate Bay trial, said the claims against his client were the most unreasonable he’d seen in his 35 years as a lawyer.

In October 2016, three weeks after the full trial, the Norrköping District Court handed down its decision. Given some of the big numbers being thrown around, the case seemed to turn out relatively well for the defendant.

While SwePiracy’s former operator was found guilty of copyright infringement, the prosecution’s demands for harsh punishment were largely pushed aside. A jail sentence was switched to probation plus community service, and the millions of dollars demanded in damages were reduced to ‘just’ $148,000, payable to movie outfit Nordisk Film. On top, $45,600 said to have been generated by SwePiracy was confiscated.

Almost immediately both sides announced an appeal, with the defendant demanding a more lenient sentence and the prosecution naturally leaning the other way. This week the case was heard at the Göta Court of Appeal, one of the six appellate courts in the Swedish system.

“We state that the District Court made an inaccurate assessment of the damages. So the damages claim remains at the same level as before,” Rights Alliance lawyer Henrik Pontén told Sweden’s IDG.

“There are two different approaches. We say that you have to pay for the entire license [for content when you infringe]. The District Court looked at how many times the movies were downloaded during the period.”

According to Pontén, the cost of such a license is hypothetical since there are no licenses available for distributing content through entities such as torrent sites, which have no mechanisms for control and no limits on sharing. That appears to have motivated the prosecution to demand a hefty price tag.

In addition to Rights Alliance wanting a better deal for their theoretical license, the official prosecutor also has issues with the amount of money that was confiscated from the platform.

“The operator has received donations to run the site. I have calculated how much money was received and the sum that the District Court awarded was almost half of my calculations,” Henrik Rasmusson told IDG.

Only time will tell how the Court of Appeal will rule but it’s worth noting that the decision could go either way or might even stand as it is now. In any event, this case has dragged on for far too long already and is unlikely to end positively for any of the parties involved.

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