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File sharing trial closes in confusion

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10:26 CEST+02:00
Sweden's first trial concerning illegal file sharing closed on Tuesday having thrown up more questions than answers.

Not only is the old copyright law which the case was based upon unclear and the file sharing technology complicated, but the defendant retracted the admission he made in police interviews.

The 28 year old on trial at Västmanland district court in Västerås admitted to police that he had made the Swedish film Hip Hip Hora available to others via the file sharing programme DC in December last year. Or so investigators thought.

In court, the 28 year old took back his apparent confession and explained that there had been a misunderstanding. He thought he was being charged with downloading copyright-protected material - which was not illegal until 1st July this year, when the new copyright law came into effect.

In the police interview, the man was never questioned directly about the film the case was based upon, but in his evidence to the court he was very clear:

"I have never had that film at home - I have never downloaded that," he said.

The case is founded almost entirely on evidence from the anti-piracy organisation, Antipiratbyrå, (APB), which represents the Swedish film and computer games industries.

APB accessed a local network with the DC programme and found Hip Hip Hora available, recorded the distributor's IP address and reported him to the police. The police turned to the internet service provider Bredbandsbolaget, which was able to confirm that the IP address belonged to the Västerås man.

Torbjörn Persson, the defendant's lawyer, devoted several hours to demonstrating the lack of certainty when an IP address is used as evidence - not least due to the fact that in many blocks of flats there are unencrypted wireless networks which allow anyone to link to the internet.

The judges - who, Swedish media were amused to note, were all in their late middle ages - were treated to a platter of terms such as spoofing, hijacking, sniffer and monkey-in-the-middle, all describing ways of exploiting another user's network connection.

Torbjörn Persson attacked APB which he described as 'informers' and 'provocateurs', and he criticised the police for failings in their investigation.

The case has been front page news in Sweden, where some 800,000 people are said to participate in file sharing, and the outcome was expected to set a precedent for similar cases which are lined up at courts around the country.

But since the old copyright law was in many respects less clear than the new one, the verdict may prove to have the opposite effect.

The prosecutor made no specific demands regarding punishment, saying instead that it was up to the court whether a guilty verdict should result in a fine or a suspended prison sentence.

The verdict is expected on 25th October.

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