Founded more than half a decade ago, Swefilmer grew to become Sweden’s most popular movie and TV show streaming site. It was credited alongside another streaming portal for serving up to 25% of all online video streaming in Sweden.
With this level of prominence, it was only a question of time before authorities stepped in to end the free streaming bonanza. In 2015, that happened when an operator of the site in his early twenties was raided by local police.
This was followed by the arrest of a now 26-year-old Turkish man in Germany, who was accused of receiving donations from users and setting up Swefilmer’s deals with advertisers.
The pair, who had never met in person, appeared at the Varberg District Court in January, together accused of making more than $1.5m from their activities between November 2013 and June 2015.
As the trial progressed, it was clear that the outcome was not likely to be a good one for the men.
Prosecutor Anna Ginner described the operation as being like “organized crime”, with lawyer Henrik Pontén of RightsAlliance claiming that the evidence only represented a small part of the money made by the pair.
From the beginning, it was always claimed that the 26-year-old was the main player behind the site, with the now 23-year-old playing a much smaller role. While the latter received an estimated $4,000 of the proceeds, the former was said to have enriched himself with more than $1.5m in advertising revenue.
The Varberg District Court has now handed down its ruling and it’s particularly bad news for the 26-year-old, who is reported to have led a luxury lifestyle with proceeds from the site.
In a short statement the court confirmed he had been convicted of 1,044 breaches of copyright law and serious money laundering offenses. He was sentenced to serve three years in prison and ordered to forfeit $1.59m. The Court was far more lenient with the younger man.
After being found guilty of four counts of copyright infringement but playing almost no role in the site’s revenue operations, no sentencing for money laundering was handed down. He was instead handed probation and ordered to complete 120 hours of community service, a sentence that was positively affected by his age when the offenses were committed.
It’s worth noting that the sentence received by the 26-year-old goes way beyond the sentences handed down even in the notorious Pirate Bay case, where defendants Fredrik Neij, Peter Sunde and Gottfrid Svartholm received 10 months, 12 months and 8 months respectively.
However, with Henrik Pontén describing the Swefilmer case as being primarily about money laundering, his group is clearly unhappy that copyright offenses aren’t considered serious enough to warrant lengthy sentences in their own right.
“We welcome the judgment, but it is clear that copyright law must be adapted to today’s serious piracy. The penalty for copyright infringement should in itself be enough to deter people from crime,” Pontén says.
“The low level of penalties allows foreign piracy organizations to locate their operations in Sweden. The trend is very worrying.”
An important factor in the case moving forward is that in determining whether infringement had taken place, the Court drew heavily on the GS Media ruling handed down by the European Court of Justice last September.
In that decision, the Court found that linking to copyrighted material is only allowed when there is no intent to profit and when the linker is unaware that the content is infringing.
When there is a profit motive, which there clearly was in the Swefilmer case, operators of a site are expected to carry out the “checks necessary” to ensure that linked works have not been illegally published.
The operators of Swefilmer failed on all counts, so the local court determined that the platform had communicated copyrighted works to the public, in breach of copyright law.
Speaking with TorrentFreak, the 23-year-old expressed relief at his relatively light sentence but noted it may not be over yet.
“I was really happy when the judgment came. The long wait is finally over,” he said.
According to IDG, RightsAlliance are considering the possibility of an appeal over the issue of damages. The lawyer of the 26-year-old believes that his client’s sentence is far too severe, so there may be an appeal in that direction too.