I’m sure you all remember the 63 year old Romanian woman arrested for file sharing with a BitTorrent client. The international crackdown on file sharing has struct once again. In the last week of May 2015, the police in Poland reported that they made quite a few arrests following a long investigation into ‘cybercrime’ hubs (websites which were distributing copyrighted content online). After having their eyes on these websites for quite a while during this intense investigation, the police made a few swoops at the homes of the individuals involved in these piracy sites and arrested three men (in their thirties and twenties). This intervention (reportedly led by a special cybercrime unit and the forces of municipal police as well) followed the shut-down of at least 3 popular Polish piracy sites which distribute video content in some sort of unauthorized manner.
Even though the names of the websites or the arrested individuals weren’t disclosed (the only thing which the Polish police revealed was a video collage of the arresting swoops, montaged with horror-style music and sounds for added suspense and drama), we know that two leading torrent sites have been down since a few days before the arrests, so we can suspect there is a connection. TNTTorrent.info and Seansik.tv were among the nation’s most popular websites prior to their yet unexplained shutdown (on the 160th and 130th position country-wide, respectively).
The three arrested men were aged between 24 and 33 years and they are blamed for causing the copyrighted content industry $1.3 million worth of losses. The jail sentence which they could get, if convicted, is of up to 5 years in prison, according to official punitive measures for copyright law infringement. However, the police rumors indicate a 3 year prison sentence is at the time more likely (for reasons which weren’t clarified as of yet). They were arrested in Wroclaw, which is the biggest city in the Western part of Poland. Besides the three arrests, the swoops included the confiscation of 14 computers, 40 prepaid cards, 13 external hard drives, as well as other sundry items, including several mobile phones.
The War on Copyright Infringement, in Poland and Beyond
These two piracy sites are only the most recent victims of the Polish police’s full-out war on cybercrime. Previously in May, the websites of torrent.pl, ekino.tv or the smaller litv.info, scs.pl and zalukaj.to. Out of all these, eKino.tv was the most regrettable loss to Polish internet users: the website was hugely popular, with over 324,000 likes on Facebook alone. Its owner was arrested as well in last month’s police swoops, and the website is only displaying a message saying ‘THE END’ on its front page and nothing more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be coming back online in the near future.
Reports from the local media also connect these police raids with the previous arrest of a Polish businessman who was running a company connected to online piracy, gaining illicit money and reinvesting it on the stock market (his arrest was accompanied by a freezing of the funds in question as well). Along with the businessman, three accomplices were also arrested, facing 10 years of jail time for uploading the pirated content (movies) on the website and for setting up an American company intended to handle the financial aspects of this illegitimate business (up to down-right money laundering).
Beyond this last example of truly illegitimate and shady business, the other websites weren’t involved in significant financial gain from the pirated content, in spite of the copyright industry’s accusations of the websites causing them $1.3 million of losses. The anti-copyright activists qualify the extra zeal of the police to deal with torrent sites as abusive and misguided, meant to protect the overstretched entitlement of the copyright industry against the citizens’ right to free circulation of information. Wherever you may find yourself on the scale of positions towards this debate, it’s clear that with similar police actions and shutdowns of torrent sites taking place all over Eastern Europe and Canada, to name only their most recent locations, things are getting pretty tight for online piracy, and it remains to be seen whether protests and activism will actually manage to relax the definitions of cybercrime.