While sites like The Pirate Bay have become household names due to their resilience and high-profile among users, copyright holders, and law enforcement bodies, there’s a vibrant underbelly of lesser-known torrent platforms.
Often working on an invitation-only basis, these ‘private’ trackers, as they’re known, fly comparatively under the mainstream radar. Nevertheless, few escape the negative attention of copyright holders who are keen to bring them to their knees.
One such platform was Rarat.org, which achieved local fame in Sweden after it grew to become one of the country’s top private torrent sites. During November 2016, however, it became clear that the show was over.
In a message posted to the site’s homepage, it was revealed that the platform’s operators were in trouble and the site had been shut down.
“This week Rarat was subject to a search, seizure, and arrest. This follows a 2013 complaint from a film company that tracked down our PayPal payments. Damages in the millions of krona are feared. The site will now be closed,” the notice read.
Around a month later, Rights Alliance lawyer Henrik Pontén, who represents several copyright holders, said that Nordisk Film, SF, and Disney had filed a criminal complaint against Rarat back in 2013.
As mentioned in the Rarat announcement, PayPal – following requests from Rights Alliance – assisted in the case. This allowed the authorities to identify the person who had been receiving Rarat’s donations. A special unit of Sweden’s Department of National Police Operations then managed to track down one of the site’s operators.
He was arrested and taken in for questioning on suspicion of copyright infringement. Several computers were also seized as evidence during a house search. Stockholm’s Public Prosecution Office later confirmed that the investigation was at an early stage and may turn up more suspects.
During the almost two years that followed, little was heard about the case. This week, however, it was revealed that two men in their thirties have been handed conditional sentences for their roles in running the site.
The pair, from the city of Jönköping in southern Sweden, were sentenced by Sweden’s Patent and Market Court for distributing at least 113 pirated films via Rarat. They were ordered to pay a total of SEK 4 million (US$440k) in damages to rightsholders.
Anti-piracy outfit Rights Alliance, which was involved in the case from the beginning, said in a statement this week that Rarat specialized in distributing Swedish films very early, often before they had been officially released. This, Rights Alliance said, resulted in “extraordinary damage” to “cultural heritage”.
Anders Nilsson, a writer on the movie Lockdown that was pre-released on Rarat, condemned the Court for handing down what he perceives to be an overly lenient sentence.
“It’s a scandal that the punishment is so low for stealing the movies we create and putting them out before they premiere,” Nilsson said.
“The effect is just the same as stealing the salary for our work, and it is also done by commercial organized crime,” he added.
Condemnation also came from Henrik Pontén of Rights Alliance.
“The problems with film piracy are far greater in Sweden than in other countries. The low punishment has no effect and new illegal film services appear all the time,” Pontén said.
“Sweden’s very high acceptance for infringing the rights of film creators has led to huge and permanent damage to the sensitive Swedish film industry.”