For those who care to remember it, November 2016 was a dark month for communities with a penchant for sharing files. Two huge sites fell in a matter of days, both courtesy of French authorities.
When OiNK was shut down in 2007, the world’s largest dedicated music-sharing community fell with it. Few believed that a new site could fill the pig-shaped hole left behind; some insisted it would be wrong to even try.
What.cd not only filled that hole but did so by meeting and then surpassing all expectations. Then in November 2016, as French authorities swooped, What.cd self-destructed and disappeared into history, exactly as previously promised.
The cybercrime unit of the French military police didn’t wait for the dust to settle. Following a two-year investigation into Zone-Telechargement, the most popular pirate download portal in France at the time, police shut down the site and arrested several people, including its alleged founders.
Local anti-piracy groups SACEM and ALPA filed a complaint against Zone-Telechargement in 2014. The goal was to identify financial accounts, assets, advertising agencies, and the site’s hosting servers.
In the wake of the raid, it was claimed that Zone-Telechargement generated at least 1.5 million euros in sales per year, utilizing offshore accounts in Malta, Cyprus and Belize. The site caused an estimated 75 million euros in damages to rightsholders, rightsholders said.
The alleged founders of Zone-Telechargement were later identified as high-school buddies Thibault Ferreira and Wilfrid Duval. The pair founded the site in 2012 but had left France and were living in Andorra when the authorities shut down their site. That didn’t prevent their arrest or the seizure of luxury cars, real estate, and at least 450,000 euros.
Ferreira and Duval were eventually charged with offenses related to intellectual property crime, money laundering, and operating as part of an organized criminal gang. They spent the next few months in prison before being released in March 2017 with conditions, electronic tagging included.
In the years that followed, sites claiming to be Zone-Telechargement regularly appeared to fill the vacuum, including one that was later confirmed as being operated by an anti-piracy company.
A site with a similar look and feel as the original was shut down in 2022 after accumulating millions of visits per month. Others still in operation today are keeping the ‘ZT’ brand alive
Judgment in France
The men finally went on trial in France on March 13, 2023. One local report notes that between 2014 and 2016, the pair from Toulouse earned 600,000 euros each for their work on the site.
The Toulouse Correctional Court found that a custodial sentence of 18 months each was appropriate, with 12 months of each sentence to be considered suspended. The court also handed both Ferreira and Duval a fine of 50,000 euros but due to time served back in 2017, neither will actually be sent back to prison, according to a local report.
There are indications that the men intend to appeal. Their lawyer, Simon Cohen, suggests that while his clients were condemned for linking to pirated content hosted elsewhere, those who hosted the infringing content they linked to haven’t entered into the equation.
“We condemned the link, but not the database itself, whereas [Ferreira and Duval] are foreign to the database,” he said.
“They are seen as the inventors and initiators of a fraud system. They have benefited from the flaws in the system: is this reprehensible? Penalizing intelligence is a mistake, ” he continues.
According to a French proverb, gambling has two great pleasures; the risk of winning and the risk of losing. Since the concept of ‘making available’ doesn’t rely on the identification of a supplier of pirated content, potential gambling pleasure may have been already cut exactly in half.