Sweden’s Supreme Court Asked to Decide Online Piracy Penalties

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When file-sharers are investigated and ultimately brought to justice, what kind of punishment should they receive? Are fines enough in some cases or is imprisonment an appropriate response? Sweden's Supreme Court may soon be required to decide.

jailIt hardly needs to be said but entertainment industry companies see file-sharing as theft on a grand scale. They believe that millions – perhaps billions – of dollars have been lost as a result of people’s love of swapping movies, music and TV shows.

Equally, there are those that believe that the act of sharing is a friendly one that causes no damage and may even stimulate the uptake of legal products. To them, participating in or even running a sharing site is not a serious crime.

It’s a complex mix that courts have to wade through periodically in order to arrive at a decision in various cases. By now it’s clear that in the United States and Europe the act of distributing or assisting in distribution of copyrighted content without permission (outside the realms of fair use) is an offense. The big question is how those crimes should be punished by the courts.

Thanks to The Pirate Bay and dozens of similar sites, Sweden has had more than its fair share of sharing-related cases but one involving a relatively small site has the potential to draw an important line in the sand for those running ‘pirate’ portals.

Originally known as Swepirate, ‘Biosalongen‘ (Screening Room) was shutdown by authorities in early 2013. A 50-year-old man alleged to have been the main administrator of the site was arrested and charged with sharing at least 125 movies on the site including the classics Rocky, Alien and Star Trek.

The man initially denied committing any crimes but after a trial and subsequent appeal, in the summer of 2015 the Court of Appeal in Gothenburg sentenced him to eight months in prison for copyright infringement offenses.

The man, referred to in court papers as ‘BH’, feels that the punishment was unjust and has now filed a claim with the Supreme Court (HD) in order to have the indictment dismissed.

Interestingly the prosecutor also wants the case to be heard by the ‘Högsta domstolen‘ but on the matter of appropriate sanctions.

“The courts judge differently in these cases. Some think the punishment should be prison, while others think that it is enough to hand out fines and suspended sentences,” Prosecutor My Hedström told IDG.

“There is legal uncertainty there. We want the Supreme Court to determine how to view this type of crime.”

When the case was heard at the Court of Appeal the offenses were categorized as carrying a maximum penalty of 12 months but not always likely to result in detention. Therefore a shorter sentence was handed down. The Prosecutor is looking for a longer term of ten months.

The Supreme Court has been asked to look at file-sharing penalties before. In
2010 a then 25-year old a man was house-sitting for a friend when he was confronted by police officers. The police decided to inspect his computer and found that he was sharing 57 movies through uTorrent.

In the initial court case the man received a $920 fine but on appeal that was increased to around $1,200.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court but despite the case being described by a judge as “borderline”, a prison sentence was still not handed down, much to the disappointment of the prosecutor.

However, Prosecutor Hedström feels that the current case and the historical one are different, with the one in hand being much more serious and also involving a commercial element.

“[The earlier case] was on a lower level, it was about a person who downloaded while uploaded movies. The making available was not on the same level as this case,” Hedström says.

IDG reports that the Supreme Court received the Prosecutor’s application (pdf) last Friday but it is not yet known whether leave to appeal will be granted.


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