It is the people behind the illegal streaming services that are brought before the court for copyright infringement, i.e. people who have made films, TV series and music available to the public through streaming without the consent of the rights holders. In one of the cases from the Court of Justice of the European Union, the question of whether watching illegal streaming services can be copyright infringement is raised.
Below, you will find links and short descriptions of the most well-known Swedish rulings and an EU judgment.
Dreamfilm.se - case no: B 226-15 – Linköping District Court
This case concerns the streaming service Dreamfilm.se, which was created in spring 2012 by four men. One of the men was considered the owner of the service and the remaining three were considered to have managed the operation, marketing and administration of the streaming service.
The service was started as a forum and later became an open service that linked to different servers online where film files and TV series were uploaded and available without the consent of the rights holders. The owner of the service originally started it in his mother's name and thereafter used various aliases and nicknames.
Behind the prosecution were the film companies Walt Disney, Nordisk Film and Svensk Filmindustri. The men behind Dreamfilm.se have received advertisement income of more than SEK 1m.
Everyone involved was sentenced by Linköping District Court to imprisonment of between six months and ten months and collective damages totalling SEK 1.3m. The court was also of the opinion that the domain name was to be forfeited.
Case no: B 3143-17 – Court of Appeal for Western Sweden
The case concerns the streaming service Swefilmer.com
Swefilmer.com has been run by two people, one who administered the service and one who was responsible for the streaming service's finances.
Swefilmer.com has linked to databases where the illegal films and TV series had been uploaded. Swefilmer.com has also contributed to translating and creating subtitles in Swedish for the films and TV series.
The court was of the opinion that Swefilmer.com was not allowed to link to copyright protected material that had been made available illegally if this had been done in pursuit of financial gain. This opinion was also confirmed by the Court of Justice of the European Union in another case in 2016.
Through Swefilmer.com, the links have been available to the public for free streaming. There was also an opportunity to become a VIP customer at Swefilmer.com for a certain fee. In 2013, there were 500 000 registered VIP customers. Swefilmer.com has also generated a great deal of revenue from advertisements.
The man who was responsible for the streaming service's finances was sentenced to three years in prison for copyright offences and serious money laundering offences. He was also sentenced to forfeit to the Swedish State the SEK 14 000 000 he had received in financial gains through the service.
The man who had administered the streaming service was sentenced for copyright offences. Considering his age, the sanction was only a conditional sentence and community service. He also forfeited SEK 38 000 in financial gains from the copyright infringement.
One of the film companies, Nordisk Film A/S, had put forward a claim for damages. The court did not find it had been proven that the films Nordisk Film A/S had the rights to had been available on Swefilmer.com for the entire period the prosecution pertained to. The court therefore dismissed the claim for damages.
An appeal was lodged with the court of appeal in this case and the main hearing took place at the beginning of March 2018.
The court of appeal judgment:
The court of appeal amended the district court judgment so that the principal in the case was sentenced to four years in prison for copyright crimes and serious money laundering offences. The administrator was sentenced to a conditional sentence and day fines. The court of appeal also amended the amount to be forfeited by the principal to SEK 4 000 000 and by the administrator to SEK 10 000. Contrary to the district court, the court of appeal decided that the principal and administrator of Swefilmer.com must jointly pay SEK 2 200 000 kronor plus interest in damages to Nordisk Film A/S.
Multimedia player - Stichting Brein C-527/15 – Court of Justice of the European Union
This case from the Netherlands concerns a "multimedia player" with an open source code which, through a plug-in programme, refers to several illegal streaming services online etc. Via the media player, the purchaser can get a structured menu of the services.
The Court of Justice found that the person who had created and sold the media player has committed copyright infringement.
Some of the judicial questions in the case pertain to whether the temporary copies that are produced in the media player when the user streams audio and film files from illegal streaming services are permitted copies in accordance with the existing EU regulations.
Temporary or cursory copies are normally exempt from the author's sole rights to their economic copyright if they occur through a necessary technical procedure.
The Court of Justice concludes that the temporary copies that are produced through the multimedia player in this case are outside of what is considered permitted copies. This means that the media player user, by watching the illegal files through the media player, may be guilt of copyright infringement.