A 15 year-old schoolboy with a taste for BitTorrent went to trial yesterday after downloading and sharing 24 Hollywood movies. The case, however, has a worrying twist. Rather than being hunted down online by an anti-piracy company, the teenager was turned over to the police by the head teacher at his school. The prosecutor says he had no choice but to take action.
In March 2011 the IT department of a Gothenburg school investigated the issue of a virus which apparently came from a student’s computer.
During a closer examination IT staff found that the student had 24 Hollywood movies stored on his hard drive. The 15-year-old boy in question had obtained them from two Swedish torrent sites – tankafetast.se and tankaner.se.
Ultimately the school’s head teacher learned of the IT technicians’ discovery but rather than deal with the issue in-house, she chose to drastically escalate the matter – by calling in the police. Now, five months after the alleged offenses, the boy is on trial in Sweden.
“Our policy is to always notify the police if we have suspicion of a crime,” the head teacher told GP.se. “It is not our job to investigate, it’s a matter for the police.”
The investigation was led by the International Public Prosecution Office in Stockholm and the trial began in the Gothenburg District Court yesterday. Prosecutor Fredrik Ingblad, a veteran of such cases, says this trial is a record-breaker – no-one this young has ever been prosecuted for file-sharing violations.
“If I find that I can prove a crime, I have to prosecute. I do not consider the person’s age or whether file sharing has occurred on a small or large scale,” Ingblad says. “By contrast, his young age, of course, is important in terms of what punishment he will be sentenced to.”
Although Ingblad says he will press for the teenager to be sentenced as a juvenile, the punishment for copyright infringements still run from fines to two years in jail.
“Politicians and copyright monopolists alike have been promising solemnly to never send the police after the entire younger generation,” Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge told TorrentFreak. “Here, we can see for ourselves how much those promises were worth. The politicians who let this happen need to be kicked out of office.”
During the hearing the boy admitted downloading movies such as The Fighter, The Mechanic, The Social Network and Scary Movie 4, but said that he had no idea he was uploading them to others at the same time.
“It’s paradoxical,” says Inglblad. “The thousands of small users who are online to download a single movie is a prerequisite for the entire system to work.”
“To prosecute one of them is of course just scratching the surface. But if you want the legal download services to work there must be at least a small chance you will get caught if you download illegally, even if you are young,” he says.
Rick Falkvinge sees the situation somewhat differently, in that sharers should not be subjected to criminal trials but rewarded, and that hopefully attitudes in the future will change.
“If the government should interfere at all with people sharing culture, it should be in the form of medals to those who share the most,” he told us.
“It is of poor comfort for a 15-year-old in a criminal court that the laws will have changed to prove him right and dignified several years later. In the meantime, he has the full moral support of pirates all over the world, from San Francisco to Sydney,” he concludes.