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Pirate Bay Found Guilty in File-Sharing Trial - InternetNews.
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Pirate Bay Found Guilty in File-Sharing Trial

Pirate Bay founders
(L to R) Pirate Bay co-founders Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm and Peter Sunde at court last month.
Source: Reuters
The Pirate Bay, one of the largest BitTorrent file-sharing sites, suffered a blow today when a Swedish court found several its operators guilty of violating copyright law -- slapping them with jail terms and hefty fines.

As a result of their sentence, site operators Peter Kolmisoppi, Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg and financial backer Carl Lundström each face a year in jail and a joint fine of 30 million Swedish crowns ($3.58 million).

The decision could reaffirm efforts by movie and music companies to fight piracy by going after sites like The Pirate Bay, which serves as an aggregator for BitTorrent files. Users download the files to link to others with whom to share movies, music, software and documents. One of the site's defenses has been that it only hosts those torrent files, rather than the copyrighted material being shared across the peer-to-peer networks established by its users.

Despite the setback, the defendants still have a shot at an appeal and have vowed to continue fighting.

"As in all good movies, the heroes lose in the beginning but have an epic victory in the end anyhow," The Pirate Bay's operators posted on their site following the verdict. "That's the only thing Hollywood ever taught us."

Indeed, the MPAA, the movie industry advocacy group, claimed to have won this battle once before. On May 31, 2006, it issued a statement (available here in PDF format) celebrating raids by Swedish authorities on offices of The Pirate Bay, which knocked the site offline only briefly.

Today, the entertainment industry said its latest victory against The Pirate Bay struck a blow for the rights of content owners.

"The trial of the operators of The Pirate Bay was about defending the rights of creators, confirming the illegality of the service and creating a fair environment for legal music services that respect the rights of the creative community," said John Kennedy, chairman of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), a global music industry association representing Sony, Universal, Warner Bros. and other large publishers.

"Today's verdict is the right outcome on all three counts," he said in a statement. "The court has also handed down a strong deterrent sentence that reflects the seriousness of the crimes committed. This is good news for everyone, in Sweden and internationally, who is making a living or a business from creative activity and who needs to know their rights will protected by law."

The decision also was hailed by ISPs, though for entirely different reasons: In many cases, ISPs have fought the entertainment industry's argument that they should police their own customers.

"This is a vindication for our view that justice prevails when both sides have a fair trial. Copyright law enforcement should be handled in courts, where both party's rights are protected. Justice is undermined when innocent intermediaries such as ISPs are asked to bypass the court system for the sole benefit of the record labels," Malcolm Hutty, president of the European ISP association EuroISPA, said in a statement.

Is file-sharing doomed?

Despite the claims, it's not yet clear whether the decision will have much of a lasting effect.

"Stay calm -- nothing will happen to [The Pirate Bay], us personally or file sharing whatsoever," Kolmisoppi said in a Twitter post. "This is just a theater for the media."

Yet the developments come as the most recent indication that illegal downloads are coming under increasing legal scrutiny. Last month, reports indicated that another file-sharing site, Rapidshare, helped police track down a user who had uploaded Metallica songs to the Internet.

However, the Pirate Bay had emerged as a special target for the entertainment industry. Most Web sites don't taunt the multinationals like The Pirate Bay does in its legal section. When lawyers representing film studio DreamWorks SKG demanded that the site cease infringing its copyrights, Warg responded in an open letter: "It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are morons."

The attitude of The Pirate Bay is in sharp contrast to that of BitTorrent Inc., the company behind the file-sharing technology.

The firm in recent years has been working to distance its technology from the trade in illegal downloads to focus on promoting BitTorrent as a legitimate distribution channel, describing itself as "the global standard for delivering high-quality files over the Internet."

It's not alone. Last year, Brad Templeton, chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a member of BitTorrent's board of directors, told the Freedom to Connect conference that P2P is a legitimate technology. "P2P technology is used to infringe not because it is inherently illegal but because people who want to infringe are using the best technology to do it. Something new will always be a bandwidth hog. Will they pursue a philosophy of beating down the winner?"