The four men connected with The Pirate Bay were found guilty of being accessories to copyright infringement by a Swedish court on Friday, delivering a symbolic victory in the entertainment industry’s efforts to put a stop to the sharing of copyrighted material on the internet.
district court has today convicted the four people charged with promoting other people's infringement of copyright laws," the court said in a statement.
The four defendants in the case, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde and Carl Lundström, were each sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay 30 million kronor ($3.56 million) in damages.
The Stockholm District Court printed up 250 copies of the judgment to meet the expected interest from media outlets.
"By providing a website with ... well-developed search functions, easy uploading and storage possibilities, and with a tracker linked to the website, the accused have incited the crimes that the filesharers have committed," the court said in a statement to the media.
The court added that the four "knew that copyrighted material was being fileshared."
The one-year jail sentences were motivated by the "extensive accessibility of others' (copy)rights and the fact that the operation was conducted commercially and in an organized fashion."
In an unusual step, the court also held a press conference shortly after making the ruling public.
Taking questions from dozens of journalists, district court judge Tomas Norström explained that the 30 million kronor damages claim was to be paid together by all four men.
Thus, if one of the defendants doesn’t have the money to cover his share, one of the other men would have to pay a larger share of the claim.
Norström was also asked if the ruling meant that other websites such as Google, which handle bitTorrent files, are also illegal.
“We’ve looked at the conditions in this case,” answered Norström.
Founded in 2003, The Pirate Bay makes it possible to skirt copyright fees and share music, film and computer game files using bitTorrent technology, or peer-to-peer links offered on the site.
None of the material can thus be found on The Pirate Bay server itself.
The four, who have denied any wrongdoing, are expected to appeal the verdict and have previously vowed to take the case as high as the Swedish Supreme Court if necessary.
The Pirate Bay claims to have some 22 million users worldwide.
Swedish police raided the company's offices several times and seized nearly 200 servers in 2006, temporarily shuttering the site. But it resurfaced a few days later with servers spread among different countries.
The site is still in operation.
According to public prosecutor Håkan Roswall, The Pirate Bay produced annual earnings of around 10 million kronor ($1.2 million).
He argued that the site was purely a business enterprise and that defendants should each receive prison sentences of up to one year.
Each of the four men charged in the case are connected to The Pirate Bay in different ways, although none claim to be the sole founder or primary operator of the site.
During the trial, they argued that they hadn’t earned a single krona from The Pirate Bay and that the site was more of a hobby. The income earned from advertising on the site simply covers the cost of operating The Pirate Bay, they claimed.
Specifically, the case dealt with alleged illegal file sharing
of 20 songs, nine films, and four computer games with the US entertainment industry looking to claim up to $15 million in damages from the accused.
The courtroom proceedings, which concluded in early March, featured a number of tense moments, memorable quotes, and legal theatrics.
On the second day of the trial, Roswall announced he was amending the charges by removing all mention of "complicity in the production of copyrighted material".
"A sensation," defence lawyer Per E. Samuelson said at the time.
"It is very rare that you win half the case after one and a half days and it is clear that the prosecutor has been deeply affected by what we said yesterday."
Later, the defence accused prosecutors and lawyers for the entertainment industry of “Perry Mason tactics” when they attempted to introduce new documents into evidence.
And when Per Sundin, the head of Universal Music in Sweden, detailed the losses suffered by his company in recent years, he laid the blame squarely on The Pirate Bay, calling the site “the biggest and baddest villain” in the music industry’s battle against illegal file sharing.
But it was defendant Svartholm Warg who perhaps best summed up his and the other defendants’ attitudes toward the entertainment industry and prosecutor Roswall, following the latter’s argument in his closing statement that The Pirate Bay was a profitable business.
“The old bastard’s crazy,” he told the TT news agency during a break in the proceedings.
Attorney Per E. Samuelson, who represented Carl Lundström in the case, suspected that the Stockholm court had been subject to “political pressure” in reaching its judgment.
“Power, the establishment, all point their fingers at a group of young rebels who have found a new technology and say that they should be convicted. That makes it not so easy for the district court to resist such political pressure,” he told the TT news agency, adding that his client was “shocked and upset” over the verdict.
“He’s facing a damages claim of 30 million kronor and is also supposed to sit in prison for a year because he provided an internet connection. It’s incomprehensible to him,” said Samuelson.
Samuelson added that he plans to file an appeal as soon as possible, as did Jonas Nilsson, the attorney for Fredrik Neij.
While Friday’s ruling is an important step in clarifying some of the legal issues associated with the distribution of copyrighted material in the digital age, it is by no means the final word.
With an expected appeal by the defendants, the case may eventually be heard by Sweden’s Supreme Court, with a detour through the European Court of Justice also a possibility, according to many experts.
Either way, it will likely be several years before a final ruling in the case is reached, by which time today’s bitTorrent technology may very well have been replaced by a new method for sharing files on the internet.