A Spanish Criminal court has acquitted four men who were accused of facilitating copyright infringement through the defunct linking sites SeriesYonkis, PeliculasYonkis and VideosYonkis. The judge notes that, at the time, sites that linked to pirated content stored elsewhere were not criminally liable. The verdict is good news for the defendants but will be appealed.
Founded in 2007, SeriesYonkis was a Spanish site where users could find links to pirated copies of the latest movies and TV-shows.
It was particularly popular in Spanish speaking territories. This caused concern among rightsholders, including Hollywood’s major movie studios.
A the end of 2013, the MPAA highlighted SeriesYonkis as one of the most prolific pirate sites on the Internet. This referral was taken on by the office of the US Trade Representative, which put the site on its lists of “notorious” pirate sites a few months later.
In Spain, the pressure was also mounting. Following complaints from rightsholders, local law enforcement picked up the case. This eventually resulted in criminal charges against four men.
All defendants were believed to have a stake in SeriesYonkis, as well as the sister sites PeliculasYonkis and VideosYonkis, at some point.
Defendant Alberto G. S. reportedly operated the sites during the early years. He sold them in 2011 to the second defendant Alexis H., who partnered with the two remaining defendants, Jordi T. and David M., before selling the sites again in 2014.
The case was partly built on evidence gathered by local film industry group EGEDA and the Spanish Anti-Piracy Federation (FAP), which represented the rights of MPAA members including Paramount, Sony, Universal, Walt Disney, and Warner Bros.
The movie companies claimed massive losses of over half a billion dollars ($560m) and following a trial in Murcia earlier this year, the prosecutor requested prison sentences of up to two years for the defendants’ involvement as facilitators of copyright infringement.
After months of relative silence, Judge Isabel María Carrillo Sáez of the Criminal Court of Murcia decided not to follow this recommendation. Instead, the Judge acquitted the four defendants, concluding that they are not liable for any of the alleged copyright infringements.
According to the Judge, the described offenses were not considered a crime when they took place.
“There was no explicit definition of these behaviors before. It was criminalized by the legislator in 2015,” the verdict reads, adding that the indirect financial benefits the operators received are not enough to warrant a criminal conviction.
As the sentence suggests, linking sites were widely regarded as being legal, or at least in a grey area. That changed in 2015 when Spain updated its copyright law. However, the alleged crimes took place before the new legislation took effect. By then, the three sites had already stopped linking, following an agreement with anti-piracy group FAP.
David Maeztu, the lawyer of defendant Alex H. informs TorrentFreak that his client was aware of the changing legal landscape.
In fact, the updated copyright law was one of the reasons why he ultimately sold the website. The sale also included a provision that the future owner wouldn’t allow users to add links.
The defendants are happy with the outcome, but despite the positive news, their legal battle isn’t over yet.
The Spanish newspaper El Pais reports that movie industry group EGEDA will file an appeal at Murcia’s Provincial Court. In a statement, the disappointed group says that it hopes to have the verdict overturned.
EGEDA cites jurisprudence from the EU Court of Justice which, based on the 2001 Copyright Directive, ruled that linking can create liability under some circumstances. In addition, the current verdict makes it clear that the sites helped to make pirated content available, the group notes.
“The sentence recognizes that the defendants made audiovisual content, both movies and TV series, available to the public via the Internet through links, without permission, By doing so, they obtained revenues in excess of 900,000 euros through advertising,” the statement adds.
The SeriesYonkis domain name is still around today. However, it is no longer operated by any of the defendants and doesn’t link to any copyright infringing content, as it used to.
Many thanks to TorrentFreak for the breaking news.