In a joint card-sharing case brought by a number of members of audiovisual anti-piracy body AAPA, the court of appeal of Liège (Belgium) has upheld the decision of the court of first instance (in Dinant) and increased the penalty for an illegal card sharing network operator and his accomplice.
The operator of the card-sharing network hosted approximately 400 users and advertised his card sharing services through eBay in conjunction with the sale of specifically adapted decoders. An accomplice also sold subscriptions to the operator’s network in exchange for a percentage of the subscription fee. The Court of Appeal analysed in detail the card-sharing system and declared the system to be illegal and contrary to EU law and its national implementing measures.
At first instance, the card sharing network operator had been sentenced to 150 hours of community service (or a six months jail sentence) by the criminal court of Dinant. The card sharing network operator appealed this decision and the Court of Appeal of Liège has now confirmed the infringement and increased the penalty to 250 hours of community service (or an 18 months jail sentence) and a fine of €1,800 (or an additional three months of imprisonment).
The accomplice was convicted by default to a sentence of five months imprisonment, and a fine of €550.
In addition, the Court of Appeal declared the income generated by the illegal practices forfeited (the amount was capped by the court) and awarded damages to the AAPA members that had brought the claim.
During police investigations it was established that since the start of the network in 2007, the operator had earned over €100,000 from the illegal activities. The investigative judge found links between card sharing networks in Belgium, France and Russia. The investigation also showed that the card sharing operator had filed false declarations of theft with pay-TV providers after the cards used for the card sharing network had been seized by the Belgian police.
Christine Maury Panis, Vice-President of AAPA and Executive Vice-President and General Counsel of Viaccess-Orca, said the case was a first, involving a joint action by most of the major pay-TV operators and conditional access providers in Europe. “Although the legal process has been at times slow, the result is positive. The decision provides an unambiguous and strong signal to courts, prosecutors and pirates that card sharing is clearly illegal and subject to severe and significant sentences. AAPA will continue to facilitate collaboration amongst its members in the fight against piracy, whether for card sharing cases or for streaming or for new areas such as cloud piracy. It will also continue to work with enforcement agencies, EU institutions and others to ensure that there is greater awareness of audiovisual piracy,” she confirmed.
The judgement is still subject to appeal to the Supreme Court on points of law.