Early October it was revealed that the BPI was following the lead of the Federation Against Copyright Theft by pursuing alleged Internet pirates in their own privately prosecuted case.
Their targets were former members of the now-defunct file-sharing links forum Dancing Jesus. The site was taken offline in 2011 following an investigation carried out by the BPI and IFPI, with assistance from the US Department of Homeland Security.
Two men were arrested by City of London Police, one the owner of the site and the other one of the forum’s top uploaders. Homeland Security played its part by seizing a Dancing Jesus server hosted in the United States.
After dragging on for years, in January 2014 site owner and admin Kane Robinson of South Shields pleaded guilty to illegally distributing music. Richard Graham, one of the site’s top uploaders, went on trial early October 6 at Newcastle Crown Court. After the hearing began the Leicestershire man changed his plea to guilty.
In a decision that must have stunned both Robinson and Graham, yesterday Judge Deborah Sherwin handed the down the harshest sentences ever in a case involving UK-based music file-sharers.
For his part in offering a site with a reported 22,500 links to 250,000 titles, Robinson was given a jail sentence of 32 months, reduced from 4 years in recognition of his earlier guilty plea.
After reportedly making available more than 8,000 tracks, of which around two-thirds were pre-release according to the BPI, Graham was handed a total of 21 months.
Following his guilty plea, TF had the opportunity to speak with 22-year-old Graham but for legal reasons haven’t been able to disclose any information until now. He told us that he hoped that his young age at the time would help his case and that the site was filled with music lovers and was never a commercial concern.
“At the time they accused me of this, I was at school taking my exams, for which I gained excellent grades. Since I was arrested in 2010, I have gone to university and completed a degree, in fact finishing it before I was even told I would be prosecuted,” Graham told us earlier this month.
“I am still amazed by the fact that so much time and money was expended [prosecuting] a small website of music lovers who spent way more on music, gigs etc than the average person. I myself spent thousands,” he added.
“It’s also clear that no money was made from any activity, which also makes me wonder. People make thousands a week from piracy, why don’t they go for them? I believe they were just looking for an easy win after all their high-profile losses, and unfortunately they chose me.”
On the flip side David Wood, Director of BPI’s Copyright Protection Unit, said the sentences handed down should serve as a warning to those running ‘pirate’ sites which give consumers a “sub-standard experience” and give nothing back to artists.
“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message to the operators and users of illegal music sites that online piracy is a criminal activity that will not be tolerated by law enforcement in the UK or overseas. Piracy – particularly pre-release – can make or break an artist’s career, and can determine whether a record label is able to invest in that crucial second or third album,” Wood said.
David Cook, a cyber crime specialist solicitor who was instructed to provide expert opinion to the defense in the case, told TorrentFreak this morning that the harsh sentence may be linked to the way rightsholders present their cases.
“When it comes to the sentencing in the criminal courts for intellectual property matters, rights holder groups proffer figures relating to the losses due to ‘IP crime’ and the damage that such offenses cause the industry. Of course, these statistics appear to be entirely self-serving, given the role of the rights holder group and their duty only to their members,” Cook explained.
“The gathering and presentation of statistics by these organizations is not open to scrutiny. The survey methodology used is not particularly transparent. Interviewer effects, the nature of questions posed and/or survey sampling bias may be significant. In terms of the values ascribed to the losses to the industry, the figures often seem ludicrously high and may be based more on apocryphal assumptions and calculations always based on ‘the worst case scenario’.”
Cook, whose previous case history includes defenses in the OiNK, FileSoup, SceneTorrents and Richard O’Dwyer cases, says that he finds the apparently harsh sentences “troubling” and “perhaps due to the extraordinary estimates of loss to the music industry forwarded by the prosecution.”
It is not yet clear whether or not there will be an appeal.