Private Torrent Site Operators Face Criminal Trial

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In 2011, police in two countries coordinated to take down a private torrent site that had largely flown under the radar. This week, 3.5 years after the raid, two alleged operators of the site faced a criminal trial in Sweden. Having uploaded no content themselves, will they be held liable for the actions of their users?

In 2009, in the wake of the first Pirate Bay trial and the guilty verdict handed to its operators, other admins with file-sharing sites in Sweden began to reconsider their positions.

Piling on the pressure, Antipiratbyrån (now Rights Alliance) wrote to several sites warning them to end their copyright-infringing activities or face the consequences.

While most simply ignored the threats, some decided it was time to close down. One pair, SweDVDR and SoftMP3, did so alongside the release of their source code. This led to the creation of two new sites which eventually merged into one to become ‘eXcelleNT’, or XNT as it was known in public.

xnt

For two years the site grew in size and reputation but in 2011 things came crashing down. Just as promised 24 months earlier, Antipiratbyrån / Rights Alliance investigated the site and filed a complaint with the police. In May the authorities pounced, arresting a man in Borlänge, Sweden, and another in the Stockholm area a day later. The site’s server was seized in Germany.

“We believe that the men have been administering and managing the site together,” said prosecutor Frederick Ingblad at the time.

In April 2014, almost three years after the raids, prosecutor Ingblad announced that the men had been prosecuted and would be heading to court. This week they appeared before the Falu District Court to appear before a criminal copyright infringement trial.

“On this file-sharing site 1,050 different types of movies and TV shows were made available to the public illegally without rightholders’ approval,” Ingblad said this week.

The case, which received support from German authorities, centers around the unauthorized distribution of movies and TV shows between March and May 2011, including content owned by Warner Bros. and Disney.

The men, aged 23 and 24, stand accused of operating XNT in a case similar to the one involving The Pirate Bay in 2009. However, while the man from Borlänge admits to running the site, he feels no crime has been committed since he uploaded no content himself and only provided a sharing platform.

His lawyer, Sven-Erik Charles, goes even further. Charles believes that his client can not be convicted of infringement in Sweden since any crimes were committed overseas

“The issue in this lawsuit is where the crime were committed, abroad or in Sweden. This particular site’s server was located in Germany,” he said.

With most private BitTorrent trackers there’s an issue with site funding that’s usually overcome by users making donations. In this case XNT also received voluntary payments from its users – $6,500 to be precise. However, according to SR.se, the prosecutor has already determined that money was not the motivation behind the site and the men didn’t get rich as a result.

“It’s about the desire to compete with other sites, you want to be the quickest to upload some movies and become the greatest, pure and simple,” Ingblad said.

As noted following the Supreme Court decision earlier this week, 1000 movies and TV shows is way above the newly-established threshold for file-sharers to avoid custodial sentences. The men have other concerns too, however. As expected the entertainment companies represented by Rights Alliance have also lodged a multi-million claim for damages.

The men’s fate on both counts will be determined in the coming weeks.

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