Sina technology reports (in Chinese) that the owner of BT Paradise BT 天堂, the most popular torrent site in China, has been sentenced to three years in prison and fined 800,000 yuan ($116,000) for copyright infringement.
According to legal documents obtained by the tech news publication, the crime was first brought to the attention of police in Jiangsu Province in 2016. Since its establishment in May 2015, the platform has hosted about 24,737 torrents of copyrighted materials. While the site doesn’t charge users for downloads, Mr. Yuan 袁, founder and chief operator of BT Paradise, reportedly profited more than 1.4 million yuan ($204,000) from the business through ad revenues. Before his arrest in September 2016, BT Paradise was the most-used torrent site in China, which had a daily average of nearly 3 million page views.
As a way to share content online, torrenting in itself is not illegal. But using this technology to distribute or download copyright protected items can be considered a violation of common laws against intellectual property theft.
Once notorious for its failure to crack down on rampant copyright infringement across the country, China has significantly improved its enforcement of IP rights in recent years, as the China Law Blog notes.
It’s indisputable that hosting tens of thousands of copyrighted torrent files is illegal, but the case of BT Paradise is special in that it used to be one of the primary sources for Chinese internet users to watch foreign movies and TV shows that are unavailable behind the Great Firewall. The site’s abrupt shutdown was met by an outpouring of sadness on the Chinese internet (in Chinese). “Yuan’s business is outright illegal. But I’m still grateful for what he did,” a Weibo user commented. Another netizen wrote, “Though I totally support the government’s increasing focus on the issue of copyright protection, the thing is, I wouldn’t resort to pirated material if I had access to legal copies.”