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Suspended sentences for operators of French piracy site Liberty Land

By | Published on Tuesday 13 March 2018


The operators of a French piracy website Liberty Land have received suspended sentences of up to six months. Somewhat less severe than the two year prison sentence recently handed to the former operator of one-time French piracy set-up Streamiz.

Like the Streamiz case, the criminal action against four operators of Liberty Land began with arrests all the way back in 2011, which in turn followed an investigation led by French song rights collecting society SACEM. The case against the four men dragged on for years before finally reaching court in January.

Liberty Land provided links to unlicensed music, movie and TV content stored elsewhere on the internet, rather than actually hosting the copyright infringing files. This predictably led to the argument on the Liberty Land side that it wasn’t actually involved in any copyright infringement itself. The infringing, they said, was being done by the people who uploaded content to the digital lockers and user-upload sites they linked to, and/or the people who streamed or downloaded that content.

According to Torrentfreak, at least one of the four defendants made that very plea during the recent trial, arguing that the site he helped run was no different to the Google search engine. In most jurisdictions that defence doesn’t hold up where a site exists primarily to facilitate piracy, with principles like contributory or secondary infringement usually applying.

However, while being found guilty of copyright crimes, the four men got off relatively lightly with suspended sentences and fines no higher than 3000 euros. Potential fines could have been much higher, and prosecutors were pushing for jail terms of between six and twelve months for each defendant.

That said, more than 176,000 euros generated by ad sales on the piracy site was confiscated by the court. The four men also still face a civil lawsuit by various copyright owners, including the aforementioned SACEM. Together those rights owners are seeking 60 million euros in damages in a case that should come to court in September.

So, despite the more lenient sentences than the prosecution had hoped for, in the main this case is a victory for the copyright owners. Except that it took – like the Streamiz case – seven years to reach court, demonstrating one of the key issues with pursing either criminal or civil action against online copyright infringers in many jurisdictions.