A man from Sweden, the first in the country to be charged with sharing multiple unauthorized movies using BitTorrent, has been found guilty of copyright infringement. While the man is probably feeling fortunate he didn’t go to prison as prosecutors had demanded, it was by pure chance that he was caught at all – an important detail in this unusual case.
In the majority of cases, rightsholders avoid pursuing BitTorrent users in Sweden since it’s technically problematic to prove more than an individual case of unauthorized sharing, such as that of a single movie, TV show, or music album. Small infringements like this aren’t generally considered worthy of criminal prosecution.
This has meant that in recent years the focus has fallen on users and operators of Direct Connect hubs where a ‘shared folder’ arrangement makes it easy to identify people sharing dozens or indeed tens of thousands of files at once, an offense considered sufficiently serious by the authorities.
This week a Swedish court delivered its verdict on the case of an alleged illegal file-sharer. The case was unusual in a number of ways, not least because it featured the first person in the country ever to be accused of multiple infringements using BitTorrent.
The case in hand, presented by prosecutor Frederick Ingblad and plaintiffs including 20th Century Fox, Sony and Paramount (assisted by Universal, Warner and Disney), stated that a man had illegally shared at least 60 movies using BitTorrent.
The offenses were said to have occurred after the man downloaded torrents from two sites – The Pirate Bay and TorrentBytes. The defendant appears to have admitted to everything he was accused of but offered some items in mitigation.
In his defense the man said that where possible he would download an item but remove it from his torrent client as soon as it began to seed so as to minimize the amount of uploading, i.e unauthorized sharing with others. This behavior had seen the man banned from TorrentBytes, a private tracker that requires its users to maintain a good sharing ratio. Furthermore, the defendant said he had limited his upload bandwidth so he could play online games while he downloaded.
None of the above paragraph could have been easily refuted by the prosecution following a remote online investigation. However, they had possession of the defendant’s computer, an unusual situation for a BitTorrent sharer, and the reason they had it was down to sheer bad luck on the defendant’s part.
In 2010, the defendant was house-sitting for a friend, watering plants and feeding fish. Answering an early morning knock at the door he was faced by five police officers who were looking for the property owner on an unrelated matter.
Despite having no initial interest in the house sitter, police decided to seize his computer. An examination revealed a uTorrent client loaded with torrents and dozens of movies. This fact was reported to the prosecutor and various movie studio copyright holders and the decision was made to press charges.
If the now 25-year-old had indeed removed his torrents as he had claimed then things might have turned out differently, but he didn’t and the court found him guilty of the willful copyright infringement of 60 movies between February 2010 and December 2010.
The court, however, did not consider the offenses to be serious enough to warrant a prison sentence so instead imposed a fine of 6000 kronor – approximately $900.
Prosecutor Frederick Ingblad expressed his deep displeasure at the decision saying that the offenses were tantamount to “going into a store every week for a year and shoplifting” and should not have been considered as a single act. Ingblad has until February 29th to appeal. He is expected to do so.
In the meantime, most BitTorrent users in Sweden can rest easy – as long as they stay in possession of their own hardware that is.