Landmark ruling comes as future of existing Hadopi anti-piracy measure is under debate.
A Paris court has fined five members of two separate Internet film piracy rings €1.1m and handed out suspended prison sentences of between three to six months.
News of the sentencing last Wednesday comes as the French socialist government mulls the future of France’s controversial anti-piracy law known as the Hadopi, put in place by the previous centre-right government.
The five defendants were accused of managing two separate film piracy sites – the now defunct Cinéfox and Carnage.
The three people involved in Cinéfox were fined €710,000 in damages and interests to a number of parties, including Disney, Universal and Warner Bros. They were also given suspended six-month prison sentences.
The remaining two defendants from Carnage were fined €410,000 and given three and four-month suspended sentences.
According to French media reports, a court hearing on Sept 12 revealed how the defendants had been involved in managing the sites as well as gathering illegal content by filming in cinemas and copying foreign DVDs of titles not yet released in France.
One piece of evidence revealed Transformers had been downloaded 1.7m times after it was illegally put up online by one of the sites in 2007.
Set up in 2005, the Cinéfox site was closed down in 2008 after an investigation by French anti-piracy association ALPA following an anonymous tip-off.
Wednesday’s ruling came just two weeks after the first ever fine for an individual under the controversial Hadopi anti-piracy law – which targets individual downloaders - since its introduction in 2009.
Under the law, offenders are sent warning emails when their IP address is found on illegal download sites. After three ignored warnings, the individual can be taken to court, fined and ultimately stripped of Internet access.
To date, more than a million emails have been sent, but less than 20 cases have been submitted to the courts. At the beginning of September a first fine was meted out to an individual user: €150 for illegally downloading two Rihanna tracks.
The future of the law – named after the agency which oversees it, the Haute Autorité pour la Diffusion des Oeuvres et la Protection des Droits sur Internet - is currently under review.
French Culture and Communications Minister Aurelie Filippetti has said the €12m cost of administering the law is too high and that its success to date in combatting piracy of creative content is also questionable.
The question of how to fight Internet pirating of creative content and encourage a legal digital offering is a key issue in Filippetti’s recently-announced drive to update French state policies, dubbed Culture-Acte 2.
Founding members of anti-piracy body ALPA Gaumont president Nicolas Seydoux and Frédéric Delacroix were due to meet with former Canal+ chief Pierre Lescure, who is heading up the Culture-Acte 2 mission, next Tuesday as part of the consultation process.