Specialising in intellectual property law

Anna Ginner is a public prosecutor at the Swedish Prosecution Authority. Along with three other experts, she handles all intellectual property law crimes in Sweden. We asked her about illegal streaming and how the underlying criminal activities are organised.

Anna recently participated in an intellectual property law conference at PRV where she talked about the commercial actors behind illegal streaming.

What experience do you have in your professional role of working with issues pertaining to illegal streaming?

"I have worked as a prosecutor for many years. For the past two years, I have specialised in intellectual property law. There are four prosecutors who specialise in this and handle all cases involving intellectual property law in Sweden. We are in charge of the preliminary investigations and process them when we bring actions to court. Of all intellectual property law cases in Sweden, about 80 per cent involve various types of copyright infringement. They are often cases of streaming of films or other illegal file sharing, but we also handle, for example, photography and text rights, for example on blogs."

"In Sweden illegal streaming is a big problem."

The illegal streaming activities are well-organised. How is this evident?

"We can ascertain that the websites look professional and are often easy to use. A lot of work have gone into them. The websites have advanced set-ups and the basic premise is to hide the underlying activities as much as possible. The server is placed in one country, the domain is registered in another country and the payment in a third.

Advertisement companies who are hired to place ads on these websites are also based all around the world. They go to great lengths to conceal who they are. There are no contact details at all on the websites."

What is the scope of the income from advertisements?

"The illegal websites for streaming make very large amounts from advertisements. You must remember that the prosecution does not include all the income a website can generate but only that which we can prove, through our evidence, has actually been generated by the activities on the illegal website.

In the case of Swefilmer, the prosecution encompassed SEK 14m in advertisement income. The amounts were likely higher as we could not bring an action before the court for the entire period, nor could we prove the entire inflow of money in all the account statements. There are often larger amounts in reality than what are seen in the prosecution."

What is the market like for illegal streaming?

"Illegal streaming websites are often focused on particular countries, for example Swefilmer. Illegal streaming is a big problem in Sweden. In other countries websites based on BitTorrent technology may be more widespread."

What connection is there to other types of criminal activity?

"The obvious connection is money laundering and tax crime. It is built into these activities. We can also see on an individual level that there are connections between these crimes and other forms of organised crime, for example those prosecuted may be involved in other crimes and criminal syndicates that produce and sell narcotics."

How big is the damage?

"It may be difficult to estimate. A film that has been distributed illegally often results in several million kronor in losses for the film company that owns the rights. If a website offers several thousand films in an illegal manner, you can only imagine the sums involved. The damage that can be claimed depends on the individual prosecution.

It is often the Rights Alliance that represents the film industry in legal proceedings here in Sweden – film companies such as SF, Warner, Disney and other companies that have distribution rights in Sweden."

What typical signs are easy to spot for the user?

"The illegal websites are often anonymous, without contact details and streaming films is free. If you are offered free films online the warning bells should ring. It is too good to be true. It is necessary to use common sense here. The latest releases in the cinema are usually not even available on the legal streaming services. In that case, why would I be able to find the film for free online?"

"If you are offered free films online the warning bells should ring."