The financial hub of Shanghai has initiated a copyright infringement crackdown as China tackles intellectual property rights protection.
Fourteen people working for YYeTS.com, one of the oldest video streaming websites, have been arrested for alleged copyright infringement of foreign shows and films such as "Friends" and "Big Bang Theory."
They made more than 16 million yuan ($2.4 million) from member fees and advertisement revenue generated by the website which hosted more than 20,000 pieces of pirated content and has 8 million users, Shanghai police officials said.
Making more-than-500 copies from a single piece of original content with the intent to make profits constitutes criminal copyright infringement, according to China's Criminal Law.
Servers related to the website were confiscated by the police.
Starting from 2018, the suspects set up servers inside and outside China to develop and operate the YYeTs.com website and app, investigation showed.
With no authorization from the copyright owners, the company downloaded from foreign pirated-video websites, paid translators 400 yuan each video for translating TV shows or films. The subtitled videos were uploaded to their servers for dissemination.
Under Chinese law, copyright owners hold rights over translated subtitles. Uploading translated subtitles without the owner's permission is defined as a copyright infringement.
As the government works to raise IP protection and fight piracy, users lament the loss of the video source, with many netizens expressing they are anxious to know which platforms allow them to watch "legal versions."
Established in 2007, YYeTS.com was known for its "honorable thief code," by not pirating exclusive content from video streaming giants such as Alibaba-backed Youku, Netflix equivalent iQiyi or Tencent Holdings' video platform Tencent Video, who offer a limited range of foreign shows.
Even though China has attempted to regulate cyberspace, it rarely saw foreign copyright owners seeking legal solutions to introduce their content. Fraught with complicated and lengthy approval processes that offer comparatively low compensation, few series or films reach the China market legally.
YYeTS.com is one of the few scenarios where local police initiated and conducted the investigation and the resulting arrests.
Shanghai police initially garnered clues of copyright infringement through the platform's membership fees and peripheral products sales. Over the past three months, the authority made a cross-regional investigation with police forces in Hubei, Shandong and Guangxi, local media reported.
Likewise, early last month, 22 suspects alleged to have infringed others' rights by putting pirated videos on DiyiDan APP were arrested by Shanghai authorities. The company is alleged to have raked in illegal profits totaling 34.18 million yuan.