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Operators of Major Pirate Sites Committed No Crimes, Court Rules

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Four men accused of criminal copyright infringement for operating major Spanish streaming sites SeriesYonkis and PeliculasYonkis have been acquitted by a local court. The men, who were previously cleared in 2019, faced an appeal but the court found that at the times the sites were operational, no crimes were being committed.

Fourteen years ago, SeriesYonkis began its journey to becoming one of the most popular ‘pirate’ sites in mainland Europe, offering links to movies and TV shows to the public. Focusing on content in Spanish, it developed a strong local audience, plus others further afield.

With this popularity came unwanted attention. In addition to action from local anti-piracy groups, criticism mounted directly from the US after the MPAA reported SeriesYonkis – which had grown from strength to strength – to the United States Trade Representative. In 2014, this elevated SeriesYonkis to ‘notorious market’ status.

Operators of SeriesYonkis & Sister Sites On Trial

After unrelenting legal pressure by several major Hollywood studios and their local proxies (including industry group EGEDA and the Spanish Anti-Piracy Federation), four men went on trial in April 2019 for their parts in the sites SeriesYonkis, PeliculasYonkis and VideosYonkis (Series, Film, and Video Junkies).

Founder and original owner Alberto García and the sites’ subsequent owners Alexis Hoepfner, Jordi Tamargo and David Martínez, faced damages claims in excess of 550 million euros. Perhaps more significantly, there were calls from Hollywood for prison sentences of up to fours each, with the local prosecutor settling on two years.

Original Verdict: Not Guilty

After months of deliberation, Judge Isabel María Carrillo Sáez of Murcia’s Criminal Court number 4 rejected Hollywood’s calls for the men to be imprisoned for facilitating copyright infringement, ruling that their actions were not 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 explained, noting that the profits made by the defendants did not warrant a criminal conviction.

Spain updated its copyright law in 2015 but the sites in question had already stopped linking to pirated content following an agreement with local anti-piracy group FAP. Undeterred, the movie companies and Public Prosecutor’s Office said they would launch an appeal.

Appeal Verdict: Not Guilty

The original trial established several key facts. Under the company Poulsen SL, Alberto García owned SeriesYonkis and PeliculasYonkis and operated them for two years. He then sold them for more than half a million euros to a company called Burn Media, which was operated by Alexis Hoepfner, Jordi Tamargo and David Martínez.

There was no evidence that any of the defendants uploaded any movies or TV shows themselves. Users of the sites reportedly providing links to pirated content that was hosted elsewhere. However, due to the lack of clarity over the mere provision of links and the reform of Spain’s copyright law that took place after the alleged offenses took place, the Court found that no crimes had been committed by the defendants.

El País reports that lawyer Cristóbal Martell, who defended Jordi Tamargo, successfully argued that criminal laws cannot be applied retroactively if they negatively affect the accused. He also convinced the Court that the accused did not know that their activities were illegal, something described as a “prohibition error“.

As a result, the appeal – filed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios and EGEDA – has now been rejected by the Murcia Provincial Court, with the panel of three magistrates ratifying the decision made by the Murcia Criminal Court in 2019.

“There is no evidence that [the defendants] were aware of the illicit origin of the information to which they referred or that it harmed any right. There is no evidence in the case that any of the defendants knew the illegality of the activity carried out by the sites,” the decision reads, as cited by elDiario.

The defendants had claimed that they had no control over the content linked via their now-defunct sites, since links were uploaded by users. This version of events was accepted by the Court, which noted that users were also aware that third-party platforms actually hosted the content.

“The user of the link who wanted to access the work selected by him from these web pages was aware of the redirection and that the download or streaming was done on a web page different from the one that contained the link,” the decision reads.

Defense lawyer Carlos Sánchez Almeida says that by upholding the decision handed down in 2019, the Court reached the right conclusion under EU law.

“You cannot judge the past with the eyes of the present, nor the present with the eyes of the past,” Almeida says.

“We have won the case thanks to the European jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and the doctrine of the Constitutional Court on the impossibility of sentencing in the second instance without repeating the trial.”

While the decision is reported as final, at least in theory the ruling of the Provincial Court can be appealed to the Constitutional Court. However, according to elDiario, convictions in the third instance after two acquittals are “extremely rare”.

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