French Court Rules for Warner Bros., Disney in Illegal Downloading Case

The creator of file exchange site ForumDDL has been ordered to pay more than $1.6 million in damages by a French criminal court.

PARIS -- A French criminal court has awarded damages to Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Disney and Columbia Pictures from the creator of the illegal sharing site ForumDDL, who also received a 10-month suspended sentence in the ruling Wednesday.

The verdict totaled nearly $1.6 million (€1.18 million) in assorted fines, the most severe so far in France's battle against illegal downloads. The court awarded $269,000 (€200,000) to Warner Brothers, $222,000 (€165,000) to 20th Century Fox, $192,000 (€143,000) to Disney, and $134,000 (€100,000) to Columbia Pictures.

The defendant will also have to pay up to French professional music organizations, with $363,000 (€270,000) to the Civil Society of Phonographic Producers (SCPP) and $207,000 (€154,000) to the Society of Authors, Composers and Music Editors (SACEM).

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The 21-year-old unemployed programmer who goes by the pseudonym JefJef10 was convicted under 2004's Code of Intellectual Property, which allows up to three years jail time and €300,000 fine for the "reproduction, communication or making available to the public" films or songs without the permission of the copyright holder. The court considered the damages for each plaintiff based on the estimated number of illegal downloads compared to the cost of a legal download, resulting in the unusually high total judgment.

ForumDDL was launched in April 2009 and moved to a second URL after its .com domain was seized by authorities in 2011, before finally being shuttered earlier this year. It allowed users to exchange direct links to illegal files, often hosted on sites such as MegaUpload. ForumDDL itself was hosted on servers in the Netherlands.

At its closure, the site had roughly 104,000 members, 50,000 links and had facilitated an estimated 3 million illegal downloads of movies and songs during its lifespan.

The defendant stated that he was not motivated by profit and made only about $13 to $27 (€10 to €20) a month from banner ads on the site, and he is not in a position to pay the damages. "We obviously are aware of the financial situation, so we will try to recover our damages in view of his capabilities," said SACEM attorney Yvan Diringer.

The French government's efforts to battle illegal downloading have so far focused mostly on consumers but resulted in only three users being convicted since the implementation of 2009's "three-strikes" Hadopi law. Two million warnings have been sent to users, with 186,000 second warnings and several third-strike cases still under investigation.

The government recently dropped the suspension of Internet access, considered one of the keystone penalties under the Hadopi law, after deciding that an individual's Internet access a basic human right.