The former operator of German file-sharing site torrent.to has been sentenced to three years and ten months in prison, in one of the harshest sentences for copyright infringement in the country to date.
The defendant, known only as Jens R due to German privacy laws, operated the site from 2005 to 2008. Torrent.to allows users to illegally download media including movies, games and e-books. It continues to operate from Russia.
The ruling handed down by the German district court in Aachen is not final and Jens R remains under investigation for bankruptcy fraud and embezzlement.
German organisation The Society for the Prosecution of Copyright Infringement (GVU) initiated legal proceedings against Jens R in 2006. In a statement on its website it said the court found torrent.to operates with the sole purpose of creating maximum profit by selling advertisements alongside links to pirated content.
The Aachen court has also issued an arrest warrant for Jens R, who is deemed a flight risk due to his suspected residence abroad and funds in a Swiss bank account.
The ruling comes almost a year after the founder of illegitimate German movie streaming website kino.to was sentenced to four and a half years in prison and ordered to hand over $4.7 million of the site’s profits after confessing to 1.1 million counts of copyright infringement.
Klaus Beucher, a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP in Cologne, said that the severity of the sentence makes a statement to those operating illegal file-sharing sites, and that he “would not be surprised” if there were similar cases still to come.
“Rights holders will not keep their feet still, but will do the utmost to get as many of those sites offline as possible,” he said.
He said the sentence will serve as a deterrent to individuals operating similar sites in Germany, as the courts will almost certainly rule in the rights owners’ favour.
“It goes without saying that these sites will be treated as illegal and [the operators] will be prosecuted,” he said, adding that any individuals operating “professional” illegal downloading sites financed by advertising or other means should expect a sentence of three to five years if found guilty.
He said that operators of illegitimate sites, deterred by the severe potential prison sentence, may move to run their sites from different countries. However they could be stymied by a lack of capital: “As these sites are financed through advertising, it may be increasingly difficult to attract advertisers,” he said.
This article was first published on 07 May 2013 in World IP Review
torrent.to, file-sharing, copyright infringement, Germany