Dozens of alleged movie pirates in Spain have been hit with demands for cash settlements this summer. While these ‘copyright-trolling’ efforts have been profitable in many countries, a Spanish judge has hit the brakes. In a first of its kind ruling, the court dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence.
In recent years, BitTorrent users around the world have been targeted with threats. They can either pay a significant settlement fee, or face far worse in court.
The scheme started in Germany years ago, and copyright holders later went after alleged pirates in Australia, Denmark, Finland, the UK, US, and elsewhere.
This summer, the copyright holders behind the movie Dallas Buyers Club added Spain to the mix, going after dozens of alleged pirates in Bilbao and San Sebastian. The ‘filmmakers’ are part of a tight group of so-called copyright trolls which are constantly expanding their business to other countries.
While they have had some success, mainly by sending out settlement letters, in Spain the first court case brought bad news.
The Commercial Court of Donostia dismissed the claim against an alleged file-sharer due to a lack of evidence. Dallas Buyers Club identified the infringer through an IP-address, but according to Judge Pedro José Malagón Ruiz, this is not good enough.
“The ruling says that there is no way to know whether the defendant was the P2P user or not, because an IP address only identifies the person who subscribed to the Internet connection, not the user who made use of the connection at a certain moment,” copyright lawyer David Bravo tells TorrentFreak.
“A relative or a guest could have been using the network, or even someone accessing the wifi if it was open,” he adds.
In addition, the Judge agreed with the defense that there is no evidence that the defendant actively made the movie available. This generally requires a form of intent. However, BitTorrent clients automatically share files with others, whether it’s the intention of the user or not.
“The upload of the data from the P2P programs occurs automatically by the program configuration itself. […] This occurs by default without requiring the knowledge or intention of the user,” Judge Malagón Ruiz writes in his verdict, quoted by Genbeta.
In other words, these BitTorrent transfers are not necessarily an act of public communication, therefore, they are not infringing any copyrights.
The case provides hope for other accused file-sharers who are looking to have their cases dismissed as well. Not in the last place because the defense was coordinated online, without active involvement of a lawyer.
Bravo, together with two colleague lawyers, offered self-help forms to accused file-sharers free of charge. Defendants could use these to mount a proper defense, which paid off in this case.
“This ruling sets a precedent,” Bravo tells TorrentFreak, noting that it’s a clear setback for the copyright holders who are involved in these mass file-sharing lawsuits.
While the lawyer cautions that other courts may come to a different conclusion, it appears that Dallas Buyers Club and other copyright trolls will meet some fierce ‘p2p coordinated’ resistance in Spain.