Operator of German file-sharing site sentenced to almost four years in prison

A 33-year-old man was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison by a German court for running the torrent site torrent.to between December 2005 and April 2008.

He was sentenced by the local court of Aachen on April 30 for the commercial and unauthorized exploitation of copyrighted works, said the German Society for the Prosecution of Copyright Infringement (GVU) in a news release published on Monday.

The man, who was only identified by the GVU as Jens R., was the former owner of torrent.to, a site that continues to operate under a new owner since 2008, and the GVU still aims to take down.

The court's sentence was higher than the sentence of three years and six months imprisonment that the prosecutor had demanded, said Christine Ehlers, spokeswoman for the GVU. As the case against Jens R. was before a local court, the lowest court in the German system, the highest sentence could only have been four years, Ehlers said Tuesday.

The defense asked the defendant to be acquitted of all charges, the GVU said.

Torrent.to was allegedly used to illegally download movies games and e-books, according to the GVU. Jens R. created the website with the sole purpose of generating as much traffic as he could to attract visitors to display advertising he sold through his network, the court found, the GVU said.

"Torrent.to was kind of a little Pirate Bay. It was the Pirate Bay of Germany," Ehlers said.

Jens R. was arrested on the spot and sent to prison, because the court thought the defendant might be a flight risk on account of the high sentence and the presumption that he still has funds in bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein as well as a house in Mallorca, Spain, Ehlers said.

The local court in Aachen did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The torrent.to case has been in court for seven years. "We filed our complaint in 2006," Ehlers said. "But there were some problems to find out what really happened because the accused didn't say a word," she said, adding that the process was slowed down further because the prosecutors were also changed over time.

Back in 2006, file sharing and sites like torrent.to were viewed differently, she said. "At that time, people thought illegal file-sharing was more a kind of Robin Hood thing to do," she said.

Since then, courts and prosecutors have built up more experience with sites like torrent.to, Ehlers said.

The judge in Aachen, for instance, took into account a case against a similar site called kino.to that was shut down in 2011, Ehlers said. Kino.to was a movie-streaming portal built by a man who also worked on torrent.to for several years, but went on to work on his own site after a falling out with Jens R., Ehlers said.

A sentence against the chief programmer of kino.to was handed down last year and he was imprisoned for three years and 10 months, according to Ehlers. The judge in Aachen then reviewed the kino.to case and concluded that it was exactly the same as the torrent.to case and therefore the sentence had to be as high as the sentence in the kino.to case, she added.

Ehlers expects that Jens R. and his lawyer will appeal the decision, she said.

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