Torrent onslaught: Russian couple gets 4yr suspended sentence for sharing movies via tracker

Torrent onslaught: Russian couple gets 4yr suspended sentence for sharing movies via tracker
A Moscow court has handed down a four year suspended sentence to a married couple for sharing about 30 films and cartoons on a torrent tracker. The case sets a precedent in Russia, sparking fears that torrent users could now be prosecuted as pirates.

Andrey Lopukhov and his wife Nadezhda were found guilty on Wednesday of the charges of copyright infringement “by a group of individuals working in collusion” for illegally distributing the movies online from April 2007 to September 2008, Russian media reported.

The investigation stated that the couple was behind sharing the videos on the interfilm.ru and puzkarapuz.ru websites, collaborating with a German-based pirate named Sergey. As of Wednesday, the second site appears to be running with shared content only partly blocked, while the first one’s domain has been taken over and is no longer relevant.

The prosecution demanded that the Lopukhovs were sentenced to three years in jail, while claiming the two also made money from sharing the movies. The damages of copyright holders for the distribution of more than 30 releases listed in the case have been estimated at a staggering 38 billion rubles (about $1.177 billion).

The affected motion picture companies represented by the Russian Anti-Piracy Organization (RAPO) reportedly asked for a suspended sentence.

Both defendants in the case denied the charges, branding the case against them a show trial to intimidate torrent users in Russia and to appease motion picture majors both at home and abroad.

While admitting they were moderators of the two sites, as cited by their lawyer, they rejected the allegation of working in collusion for profiting from the pirated videos. The sites did profit from ad banners and from donations for raising the download rating of users (as in the case of interfilm.ru), but all downloads were free, according to the witnesses. Both the Lopukhovs and some of the witnesses said during the hearings they were put under pressure by the investigators.

The Pirate Party of Russia and other Internet activists have campaigned for the charges against the Lopukhovs to be dropped. Some believed the case to be political and even connected to the American trade lobbies, quoting the 2012 report of the Office of the US Trade Representative that said “the United States recognizes progress in connection with criminal proceedings against interfilm.ru, an infringing website in Russia.”

Andrey Lopukhov also asked Russian Internet users to sign a petition for legalizing torrents. The petition was addressed to President Putin and has been signed by more than 36,500 people.

The sentence in the controversial case has become the first of its kind in Russia. According to lawyer Sarkis Darbinyan, who represented the Lopukhovs in court, it sets a dangerous precedent of “equating the placement of torrent files or links to the file sharing services to direct piracy and copyright infringement.” 

Russian anti-piracy law came into effect on August 1, 2013. The bill allows the blocking of whole websites that distribute pirated content after the copyright holder writes a complaint to a specially set up official body. If the Moscow City Court, which now decides on all film piracy cases in the country, upholds the complaint, the site remains blocked and is put on a special blacklist.

In its current form the bill only protects video content – movies and television series – and does not cover music copyright. However, a special government working group is now considering amendments to the bill that could include music, literature and software on the list.

So far, no sanctions have been introduced in the law against downloaders and end users of the pirated videos. At the same time, the officials have hinted at the possible clampdown on torrent trackers – the preferred file sharing media for many Russian Internet users.

The Deputy Minister of Communications and Mass Media of Russia, Aleksey Volin, recently told CNews.ru that some of the 160 Russian torrent trackers could be banned by IP address if the court finds they are used to harbor “blatantly illegal content.”