A Beijing court has handed out China’s stiffest ever penalties for online streaming of copyright infringing content to six executives of video-on-demand (VoD) website OpenV.com.

On July 30, the Beijing Chaoyang District People’s Court sentenced OpenV chairman Chen Haitao, vice president Yang Ming and four other executives with up to four years’ imprisonment with two years’ probation. The company, which was raided by law enforcement authorities on September 20, 2010, was also fined $314,000 (RMB2m).

First established as a video search engine in 2006, OpenV gradually transformed into a VoD website attracting daily average traffic of more than 55 million page views, 40 million video views and 8 million unique visitors. Its ad revenue from domestic and multinational brands exceeded $3m.

A large proportion of the traffic involved copyright infringing content, including hundreds of titles from Motion Picture Association (MPA) member companies, leading to complaints by several right holder organisations.

“This landmark criminal conviction sends a clear signal to those operating websites with infringing content that they are not outside the law in China,” said Mike Ellis, MPA’s president and managing director, Asia Pacific.

“It is rewarding to see that the Chinese government has taken the much needed steps to establish a strong copyright regime as this is essential for a successful commercial market. We hope to see more such cases being dealt with in the same deterrent manner.”

“This sets a good precedent on how government and rights organisations like MPA can work together to fight copyright theft and help build an environment that enables legitimate businesses to grow,” said Zhou Huilin, director general of China’s National Anti-Piracy & Pornography Office.