Private Torrent Site User Faces Prison After Sharing 40 Movies

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During a court hearing scheduled for tomorrow, a private torrent site user is expected to admit that he shared around 40 movies in breach of copyright. The case is special. Not only is this a criminal prosecution carrying a possible prison sentence, it will also pave the way for similar action against an undisclosed number of pirates.

Pirate KeyThe vast majority of BitTorrent users prefer ‘public’ torrent sites such as The Pirate Bay. There are no barriers to entry and no rules to follow. It’s quick and convenient.

Private torrent sites work on a membership basis, with an invitation required for entry. Once admitted, users must keep their accounts in good standing, which usually means balancing whatever they download with comparable uploads.

Rules differ depending on the site, but the general theme is that people can download whatever they like, as long as they share back with the community. This can mean that they’re sharing many movies or TV shows at any one time, and that makes them a more interesting target.

DanishBits Shutdown Triggers More Legal Action

A closed and less public ecosystem is generally considered a plus for security but when any site becomes a target for determined law enforcement, all bets are off. In October 2020, when Denmark-based private tracker DanishBits shut down, that was just the beginning.

After being arrested in Morocco, one of the site’s ringleaders was extradited to Denmark, where he was later convicted and sent to prison. Just weeks earlier, a DanishBits user received a conditional sentence for his activities on the site.

The possibility that more torrent site users could face prosecution was previously left open by police. However, anti-piracy group Rights Alliance believes that a focus on user behavior can change attitudes towards piracy and those who participate in it.

Through an initial case with specific goals in mind, Denmark may be about to find out.

Criminal Prosecution for ‘Serial Offender’

Given the previous successes against DanishBits users, it’s no surprise that Rights Alliance selected another of its former members for prosecution. The existence of the case was reported by Denmark’s K-News in advance of a hearing scheduled for this Thursday. It’s been a long time in the making.

As part of an investigation by Rights Alliance, anti-counterfeiting company MarkMonitor was brought in to gather intelligence on Danish users actively sharing a minimum of 10 movies, to which Rights Alliance members own the rights. The decision to go after mostly ‘serial offenders’ is aimed at differentiating this type of action from more predatory conduct associated with copyright trolls.

“We have put a lot of focus on getting a verdict for downloading films,” Rights Alliance director Maria Fredenslund told K-News.

“It is the primary thing for us that we get to set a principle in criminal law. And that it is the police who have to do it. We follow what is going on in this world, and we can see that when a high penalty is given, it has an impact on how people download and refrain from downloading films.”

Setting a Deterrent Example

When the very first ‘copyright troll’ cases appeared from under their bridges in the mid-2000s, the name of the game was to pick someone who would never fight back, hit them with a massive default judgment, and use panic to get people to pay settlements.

The situation with Rights Alliance is more nuanced. The anti-piracy group is seeking a similar deterrent but is doing so with caution. The outsourcing of the tracking data to a reputable company, a police prosecution, and then a court deciding the punishment, means that there can be no claims of profit-motivated foul play. But is the file-sharer’s case ordinary enough to make it relatable, with no special circumstances?

“To our knowledge he has no ties to the operators of DanishBits and he has not been faced with any charges in this regard,” Rights Alliance informs TorrentFreak.

“He is a typical user of a private BitTorrent tracker like DanishBits in the sense that he is not a part of an uploader group or a first uploader, but he did use a seedbox when he was apprehended.”

Something else that interested us was the possibility that data seized from DanishBits may have been used as evidence in this case. Rights Alliance told us they don’t know if the police did that but at least in this matter, the police prosecution should be the end of the matter and Rights Alliance won’t need to follow up with a civil case.

“The state/police is prosecuting the case. We do not plan on following up with a civil case if our damages claim is handled in the criminal proceedings. There is no fine to be paid, but we have brought a damages claim.”

The Court’s Sentencing Options

Since this is a criminal prosecution, a prison sentence is available to the court. Rights Alliance says that the maximum prison sentence the court can consider is 18 months, according to the charges and Danish copyright law. Rights Alliance (RA) also has a damages claim of DKK 2,800 (US$380) which is very low compared to some of the claims seen elsewhere. Is this the kind of claim that may appear in future cases?

“Our damages claim will vary on a case by case basis. We take into account any special costs due to the type of evidence gathering required and the amount of infringing use of RA member’s works. In the past it has been an uphill battle to get damages claims in criminal IP cases decided by Danish courts, so we are starting from a low baseline and working our way to a more reasonable level,” Rights Alliance concludes.

While any type of prosecution will be unacceptable to the majority of file-sharers, Rights Alliance is playing this right down the line. There’s no shadowy tracking company involved and no corporate structures in place for plaintiffs to hide behind. There is also no targeting of users sharing a very small number of movies and the damages request is currently very low.

It has all the hallmarks of a project designed to deter, not one designed to rake in money. Rights Alliance knows it can’t be labeled as yet another copyright troll and has taken every step to avoid that. As these campaigns go, that is very unusual, but whether it will have the desired effect is another story.


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