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Swedish court finds Pirate Bay file sharing creators guilty, Hollywood hails ruling

April 17, 2009 | 11:37 am
The pirate bay ki8pz9nc  
From left, Gottfrid Svartholm Varg and Peter Sunde, two of the men behind the Pirate Bay. Credit: Fredrik Persson / AFP/Getty Images

In a victory – preliminarily, at least – for Hollywood, a Swedish court today handed down prison sentences for four men behind the Pirate Bay, a popular file-sharing search engine, and ordered them to pay $3.6 million in damages to such entertainment giants as Warner Bros. and EMI.

The four defendants were convicted of facilitating copyright violations and given one-year prison terms for their role in setting up and bankrolling the website, which allows users to find movies and songs to download for free.

But putting a damper on any Hollywood boardroom cheer, the men vowed to appeal their conviction, a process that could keep the dispute going for years, and the offending website remained up and running even after the verdict was delivered.

Moreover, one of the defendants, Peter Sunde, responded with an insouciant online video press conference in which he dismissed the verdict as “bizarre” and “stupid” and scoffed at the idea of handing over a cent.

“That’s the closest they’re going to get to any money from us,” he said, holding up a piece of paper in front of the camera with the handwritten words “I OWE U 31,000,000” Swedish kroners, or about $3.6 million. “They could’ve gotten 1 billion, and it wouldn’t matter, because we can’t pay, and we wouldn’t pay.”

The case has been closely watched by the entertainment industry, which has ...

... struggled mightily to keep pace with the digital revolution and the explosion of online services that basically enable millions of users around the world to enjoy blockbuster films, hit TV shows and bestselling pop albums for the price of an Internet connection.

Pirate bay ki8qzunc Young people, especially, have latched on to the services, increasingly regarding the concept of paying for such products as quaint and outmoded.

As one of the most popular sites, the Pirate Bay, with an estimated 22 million users, had become a major target of entertainment companies intent on shutting such services down, or at least getting them to modify their operations through legal action – as happened to Napster – so that some revenue flowed back to them.

The Pirate Bay acted as a sort of data clearinghouse by directing users to bits and pieces of, say, a movie that were stored throughout cyberspace. The user’s computer could download the scattered nuggets of data at high speed, using technology known as torrents, and then assemble them to make the complete film.

Among the works allegedly downloaded illegally were songs by the Beatles and movies such as “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” Entertainment companies say such downloads cheat them of billions of dollars every year.

Defense lawyers had argued that their clients were not guilty of copyright violations because the Pirate Bay itself did not carry the content; it merely told users where to find them. But the court in Stockholm rejected that argument, deciding that the site essentially made such violations possible.

Judge Tomas Norstrom told reporters that the site was a “commercially driven,” money-making enterprise, but the four men – Sunde, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Fredrik Neij and Carl Lundstrom – denied that that was the case.

“There’s a lot of things in the ruling that [are] faulty, and a lot of things which, you know, they decided just to not listen to us at all,” Sunde said in his online news conference, during which he answered questions submitted by Twitter. “It’s so bizarre we just have to laugh about it. It’s unreal.”

He blasted the decision to issue a prison sentence for a civil complaint. “It’s serious to actually be found guilty and get jail time,” he said.

But when asked what he planned to do Friday night, he invited viewers to a party – and to protests he said were planned.

Representatives of the entertainment industry hailed the court decision as a victory. But they said the same in 2006 when Swedish authorities raided Pirate Bay’s headquarters and seized its computer servers, only to be dismayed when the site popped up again a few days later, running on servers located elsewhere.

More frustrating yet, the raid prompted protests in Sweden, and two candidates for prime minister announced publicly that they did not believe file-sharers should be treated as criminals.

-- Henry Chu

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