Epic 6-Year File-Sharing Case Over Just 3 Songs Comes To An End

A file-sharing prosecution that has been dragging on for six long years has finally come to an end. The original complaint, filed by the Portuguese Phonographic Association in 2006, targeted a then 17-year-old. Now 23, their target has just received a suspended jail sentence and a fine of 880 euros. None of this has helped the country's music industry - physical product sales nosedived more than 34% last year.

When the Portuguese arm of IFPI first decided to bring file-sharing prosecutions to the country, their aims would have been simple – to scare Internet users away from file-sharing networks and into the shops. It didn’t work out that way.

Since 2006, the Portuguese Phonographic Association filed more than two dozen cases with the Attorney General’s Office. Only two bore any fruit at all – one in 2008 and another just over a week ago having dragged on for an epic six years.

The case was brought against a then 17-year-old teenager who allegedly shared hundreds of songs online without permission. However, for “technical and procedural reasons” (read: lack of evidence), those claims were reduced massively and in the end it was decided he shared just three, a pair from local artists and ‘Right Through You’ by Alanis Morrisette.

Now, the Lisbon Criminal Court has finally delivered its ruling in the case. For violating copyright, the now 23-year-old received a two month suspended jail sentence. The Court decided that since the man was just 17 at the time of the offense and has a completely clean record, the sentence should be changed to a fine of 880 euros – 640 euros plus 4 euros in lieu of each day not served in prison.

After having made 40 similar complaints against file-sharers since 2006, the Portuguese Phonographic Association says it will now give up on the strategy.

“At the time, it was believed that, in fact, through the application of existing law we could begin to control the problem of Internet piracy,” said Association president Eduardo Simoes.

Current legal framework, Simoes added, can not cope with online file-sharing. Inevitably he is calling on the government to introduce new laws that do away with prolonged prosecution periods that reduce the deterrent effects of bringing cases to trial. What the Association wants is a “3 strikes” style arrangement whereby file-sharers are sent escalating warnings and eventually punished.

As the local branch of IFPI, the Portuguese Phonographic Association controls 95% of recorded music in Portugal but it is currently facing a crisis. The Association reports that in the last decade profits have dropped by 80%, and in 2011 sales of physical products nose-dived 34.4%.

Interestingly, in addition to blaming the piracy bogeyman and the economic crisis for these reductions in sales, Simoes also cites an undeveloped digital offering and artists’ growing tendency to self-publish as additional factors compounding the problem.

Despite the apparent lack of legal support, Portugal’s movie industry say they are working hard to reduce piracy by other means. According the MPA-backed FEVIP, they shut down 302 local sites offering pirate material during 2011.

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