Swedish Verdict Due On Illegal Downloads

Sweden isn’t the first country that comes to mind when thinking about illegal downloads, but a verdict tomorrow could have worldwide implications.

It started in May 2006 when Swedish police raided the company that ran torrent tracking website Pirate Bay. The company was not a host of copyrighted files, although Swedish prosecutors believe they did the next best thing – help web surfers share copyrighted music and film files by matching those wanting the files with PCs that host the files. The site made its money via advertising, which the prosecutors believed was commercially exploiting copyright material.

Under what some think was mounting pressure from movie and music copyrighted lobbyists, the Swedish government decided that enough was enough and that Pirate Bay should be shut down. However, their victory was only temporary because within three days it was up and running again; and according to the number of hits it was getting, even more popular.

Cut to January last year when four men – Gottfrid Svartholm, Fredrik Neij, Peter Sunde and Carl Lundtrom – had charges filed against them for ” promoting other people’s infringements of copyright laws”. They face huge fines and up to two years in jail.

A year later, on February 2009, a seven-day trial kicked off with both parties incredulous at the others side of the story. At its most basic the prosecutors said the four men “worked together to administer, host, and develop the site and thereby facilitated other people’s breach of copyright law”. The defense, on the other hand, compared the website’s set up to that of a car manufacturer making cars that can be driven faster than the speed limit, and therefore their clients were not liable for what other people where doing on the site. Tomorrow (Saturday Australian time), the Swedish court will return its verdict.

Why is the outcome is important and even affect us? Because it will give overseas prosecutors and judges a precedent by which they can measure cases that are brought before them. While the Swedish decision will have no legal binding outside of Sweden (and perhaps the European Union), if the prosecution is successful, expect a torrent of cases to be put forth using similar arguments that were used against Pirate Bay.

And why is it relevant to Australia in particular? Because a very similar thing is happening to IP company iiNet, who is being sued by seven film companies and the seven network.
Of course, whoever loses the court case in Scandinavia will automatically appeal, so it could be a while before a final verdict is reached.

UPDATE: All four defendants were found guilty and have to serve a year in jail and pay a fine of $US3.5 million. Interestingly, the Pirate Bay website is still running, probably due to the expected appeal that will be filed soon.