The Pirate Bay – the worlds best known file sharing site has had four of its owners jailed for a year each today.
A Swedish court jailed the four men, Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstrom and Peter Sunde in a landmark case after they were found guilty of breaking copyright law.
The Pirate Bay is the world’s most high profile file-sharing website and was set up in 2003 by anti copyright organisation Piratbyran. However it has been run by individuals for the last few years.
Every day millions of files including movies and tv streams are downloaded from the site. However no copyrighted material is hosted on The Pirate Bay servers. The site instead hosts ‘torrent’ links to TV shows, movies and music files held on the users computers that are ‘shared’ around.
The four were also ordered to pay $4.5m (Â£3m) in damages. Naturally music and movie companies welcomed the verdict but the men are now set to launch an immediate appeal and are refusing to pay the fine.
Peter Sunde, speaking at an online press conference described the verdict as “bizarre”.
“It’s serious to actually be found guilty and get jail time. It’s really serious. And that’s a bit weird,” Sunde commented.
“It is so bizarre that we were convicted at all and it’s even more bizarre that we were convicted as a team. The court said we were organised. I can’t get Gottfrid out of bed in the morning. If you’re going to convict us, convict us of disorganised crime.
“We can’t pay and we wouldn’t pay. Even if I had the money I would rather burn everything I owned, and I wouldn’t even give them the ashes.”
The damages have been awarded to a number of entertainment companies, including Warner Bros, Sony Music Entertainment, EMI, and Columbia Pictures but fell short of the $17.5m in damages and interest the companies wanted.
Speaking to the BBC, the chairman of industry body the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) John Kennedy said the verdict sent out a clear message.
“These guys weren’t making a principled stand, they were out to line their own pockets. There was nothing meritorious about their behaviour, it was reprehensible.
“The Pirate Bay did immense harm and the damages awarded doesn’t even get close to compensation, but we never claimed it did.
“There has been a perception that piracy is OK and that the music industry should just have to accept it. This verdict will change that,” he said.
The four men denied the charges throughout the trial, saying that because they did not actually host any files, they were not doing anything wrong.
Speaking on Swedish Radio, assistant judge Klarius explained how the court reached its findings.
“The court first tried whether there was any question of breach of copyright by the file-sharing application and that has been proved, that the offence was committed.
“The court then moved on to look at those who acted as a team to operate the Pirate Bay file-sharing service, and the court found that they knew that material which was protected by copyright but continued to operate the service,” he said.
A lawyer for Carl Lundstrom, Per Samuelson, told journalists he was shocked by the guilty verdict and the severity of the sentence.
“That’s outrageous, in my point of view. Of course we will appeal,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. “This is the first word, not the last. The last word will be ours.”
Rickard Falkvinge, leader of The Pirate Party, which is trying to reform laws around copyright and patents in the digital age – told the BBC that the verdict was “a gross injustice”.
“This wasn’t a criminal trial, it was a political trial. It is just gross beyond description that you can jail four people for providing infrastructure.
“There is a lot of anger in Sweden right now. File sharing is an institution here and while I cannot encourage people to break copyright law, I’m not following it and I don’t agree with it.
“Today’s events make file sharing a hot political issue and we’re going to take this to the European Parliament.”
So down, but not out. The website itself is still running but may not be for much longer.
The media companies are however just plugging a small leak from a torrent of file sharing that cannot be stopped. The sooner they change policy and go with the tide of change the better for us all.