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Following a three-year investigation involving a prosecutor’s office, a police economic crime unit, and a regional police force, three men linked to piracy portal Ogladaj (Watch) have been arrested in Poland. Police say they seized luxury cars, silver bars, cryptocurrency and cash. Other crimes that make the prosecution much more intriguing are mentioned in much less detail.
A study published in September by the European Union Intellectual Property Office found that by late 2022, each internet user in the EU accessed websites offering pirated content at a rate of around 10 times per month.
Estonia and Latvia were called out as Europe’s most prolific infringers with around 25 accesses per user per month. German citizens and their Italian counterparts were highlighted as among the best behaved; 7.5 accesses per user per month, or roughly one pirate site visit every four days.
Yet when it comes to overall piracy rates and movie piracy in particular, no country in Europe can match the level of restraint shown in Poland. Not only do the Poles pirate less overall than any other country in the bloc, its citizens lead Europe on exposure to legal services.
The European average for buying from the internet or a pay TV platform in 2022 was just over four people in every ten (pdf). Poland managed almost six in ten (59%), the best in Europe. All France had to show after 15 of years of monitoring, fining, and trying to reeducate pirates, was just three out of ten, the worst rate in Europe.
Poland Steps Up Piracy Crackdown
Last November, officers from Poland’s Central Bureau for Combatting Cybercrime (CBZC) arrested a then-28-year-old man on suspicion of connections to local platform, Zaukaj.vip. In January 2023, a 33-year-old believed to be the site’s founder was arrested and charged with fraud offenses dating back to February 2020.
A separate investigation began in May 2020 and ran until June 2023. The Department for Combating Economic Crime in Kraków, under the supervision of the District Prosecutor’s Office in Lublin, targeted the operators of Ogladaj.to (Watch.to) for illegally distributing movies and TV shows online.
According to information provided by police this week, the service was well organized and utilized content obtained from suppliers in Russia and Ukraine. Ogladaj’s outward appearance was somewhat typical of a web-based streaming service and the content itself appears to have been embedded in a YouTube-style player.
With just 25,000 visits per month, on face value Ogladaj’s traffic levels seem a little low to warrant three years’ worth of investigation resources, at least when compared to other locally-significant platforms.
For perspective, Poland-focused streaming site CDA-HD.cc receives around 1.7 million visits per month while Filman.cc, a site that claims to be registered as a legal business in Poland (1), receives over 10 million.
Huge Losses to Rights Holders
Despite what appears to be a somewhat limited audience, police claim that Ogladaj caused losses to rightsholders in the region of PLN 15 million ($3,615,777).
Customers reportedly paid for subscriptions by redeeming vouchers bought online, although just days after police wrapped up their investigation (and seemingly before any arrests were made) customer complaints about an inaccessible service had already begun to appear online.
Interestingly, the streaming service also accepted cryptocurrency payments. Police say these were processed through a crypto exchange office allegedly operated by one of the suspects.
In October police arrested a 36-year-old man, described as the founder of Ogladaj, at an apartment in Gdynia, northern Poland. On the same day, a 38-year-old IT specialist was detained in Lower Silesia. Both men were subsequently charged with crimes in connection with the unlawful distribution of copyrighted content.
There was some other stuff too.
“Internet portal with erotic advertising”
The report released by Małopolska police says that officers became aware that the alleged founder of Ogladaj was also responsible for creating an “internet portal with erotic advertising.” The arrested 38-year-old provided technical support for both websites, police say.
“During a search of the suspects’ places of residence, the electronic equipment they used was seized. In addition, money in various currencies, funds in accounts, luxury cars, as well as high-quality sports equipment, silver bars and gold collector coins were seized from the suspects for future fines,” the report reads.
The total value of the seized property is estimated at PLN 1,000,000, around $240,700, but whether all of that is attributable to the piracy operation becomes unclear when other potential crimes enter the equation.
“[The suspects] will also be held responsible for deriving financial benefits from prostitution,” police add, with no further detail.
Suspects Must Not Flee
A third suspect in the case is described as a 30-year-old man who sold Ogladaj vouchers on his own website. If found guilty, police says the suspects face up to five years in prison.
The men were released and placed under police supervision, which includes a ban on them leaving the country. Given the rather unusual events of 2020, which saw one of the world’s most wanted pirates suddenly vanish into thin air, that doesn’t come as a surprise.