One of the world's most-used pirate film websites has been closed after providing links to illegal versions of major Hollywood hits and TV shows.
The first closure of a major UK-based pirate site was also accompanied by raids and an arrest, the anti-piracy group Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) said today.
A 26-year-old man from Cheltenham was arrested on Thursday in connection with offences relating to the facilitation of copyright infringement on the internet, Fact said.
The arrest and the closure of the site - www.tv-links.co.uk - came during an operation by officers from Gloucestershire County Council trading standards in conjunction with investigators from Fact and Gloucestershire Police.
Fact claims that tv-links.co.uk was providing links to illegal film content that had been camcorder recorded from cinemas and then uploaded to the internet. The site also provided links to TV shows that were being illegally distributed.
Visitors to the site could get access to major feature films, sometimes within days of their initial cinema release. Recent links took users to illegal versions of the Disney/Pixar animation sensation Ratatouille as well as to most of this summer's blockbusters.
"Sites such as TV Links contribute to and profit from copyright infringement by identifying, posting, organising, and indexing links to infringing content found on the internet that users can then view on demand by visiting these illegal sites," said a spokesman for Fact.
The group's director general Kieron Sharp said TV Links was the first major target in a campaign to crackdown on web piracy.
"The theft and distribution of films harms the livelihoods of those working in the UK film industry and in ancillary industries, as well as damaging the economy," he said.
Roger Marles, from Trading Standards said sites such as TV Links allowed people to break UK copyright law.
"The 'users' are potentially evading licence fees, subscription fees to digital services or the cost of purchase or admittance to cinemas to view the films," he added.
The British Video Association estimates that at least Â£459m was lost to the video, film and TV industries due to piracy in 2006.
A man aged 26 from Cheltenham was arrested on Thursday (18th October) in connection with offences relating to the facilitation of copyright infringement on the Internet. The arrest came during an operation by officers from Gloucestershire County Council Trading Standards Service working with investigators from the Federation Against Copyright Theft (â€˜FACTâ€™) and Gloucestershire Police. The man has been released pending further enquiries.
The site, TV Links (www.tv-links.co.uk), was providing links to illegal film content that has been camcorded from within a cinema and then uploaded to the Internet. The site additionally provided links to TV shows that were also being illegally distributed.
Sites such as TV Links contribute to and profit from copyright infringement by identifying, posting, organising, and indexing links to infringing content found on the Internet that users can then view on demand by visiting these illegal sites.
Kieron Sharp, FACT Director General, said: â€œWe at FACT have stated very clearly that we intended to pursue those who are openly exploiting and facilitating the distribution of illegal film and TV content and this was the first major target.
The theft and distribution of films harms the livelihoods of those working in the UK film industry and in ancillary industries, as well as damaging the economy.
In addition, those visiting sites hosting illegal content run the risk of downloading Trojans or viruses that can infect their computers.â€
Roger Marles, Head of Trading Standards, said: "This practice allows people to view any one of a large number of films and television programmes directly via the website. This is illegal under UK copyright law. The 'users' are potentially evading licence fees, subscription fees to digital services or the cost of purchase or admittance to cinemas to view the films.
No physical product changes hands but the effect is the same - anyone has the opportunity to view an illegal copy of a copyrighted work. This is all done without the permission of the owners of the copyright or trade mark protection in the works being distributed.
As no control is exerted over who can visit the site and access the service, there is no regard for the age of the viewer and therefore no control of the content of what is viewed."
The operation was conducted with the assistance of BREIN, the Dutch anti-piracy body, who have served notice on the TV Links hosting provider, Leaseweb, to allow the website servers to be removed. Leaseweb is based in the Netherlands.
Gloucestershire police have confirmed that a 26-year-old Cheltenham man at the centre of an investigation into the website TV-Links was arrested under section 92 of the Trade Mark Act, on suspicion of supplying property with a registered trademark, without permission.
The man was taken into custody on Thursday last week after an investigation by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) and the local trading standards office. Initial reports from FACT said he had been arrested for "offences relating to the facilitation of copyright infringement on the Internet".
TV-links, by all accounts, was (it is no more) a place where users could post links to content from TV shows, movies and so on, so that other web users could view them. The site didn't host the material directly, but did, according to reports, embed some video clips.
The man has not been charged with any offence, and has been released pending further investigation.
According to legal experts, the revelation that the 26 year-old was arrested under trademark law adds further uncertainty to an already cutting edge legal situation.
"I've never heard of using trademarks law for anything like this,"said Struan Robertson, legal eagle at Pinsent Masons, and editor of Out-Law.com.
"There are criminal provisions in the Trade Marks Act, but they are intended to catch the sale of counterfeit goods, not the supply of a service. I'd be surprised if the provision of links was found to be a criminal offence under the Trade Marks Act."
Indeed, section 92 is very clear that:
"A person does not commit an offence under this section unless- (a) the goods are goods in respect of which the trade mark is registered, or (b) the trade mark has a reputation in the United Kingdom and the use of the sign takes or would take unfair advantage of, or is or would be detrimental to, the distinctive character or the repute of the trade mark."
There has been no suggestion (so far) that TV-Links was involved in anything other than providing access, via web links, to copyrighted material.
Robertson speculated that they'd have a better chance of bringing a case for copyright offenses, but even that would be on new legal ground.
"They'd have to show that he was distributing or communicating copyrighted works. And that is a legal argument to be had between the prosecution and defence. It sounds like they are trying to crow-bar activity that looks wrong into laws that aren't really designed to deal with it," he told us.
We contacted the Federation Against Copyright Theft, but the organisation offered no further comment on what it describes as an ongoing investigation. Â®
Attention morons, talk about this as a news item. Not "Damnit I knew something was wrong when I tried to watch [copyrighted material] earlier because [shaky reasoning]." This isn't productive and is just as against the rules as if you talked about which files you're currently downloading via bittorrent.