File-Sharing Pirates Busted In Sweden

In Sweden, four men have been convicted of violating copyright laws for running a Web site that connected people who wanted to share files illegally over the Internet.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Now, news about the other kind of pirates. This week we've reported a lot about the men who were hijacking ships off the coast of Somalia. Well, today in a landmark ruling, four men have been convicted in Sweden of digital piracy, that is, copyright infringement.

They were sentenced to a year in jail and fined millions of dollars for running a Web site called The Pirate Bay. People have used it to find unauthorized copies of movies and video games.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL: There's one way the Somali pirates are just like the Swedish pirates. They know how to work the media. The four men convicted today of digital piracy announced it to the public in a Twitter message, even before the Swedish court did.

Mr. DAN CRYAN (Analyst, Screen Digest): The Pirate Bay has always had a genius for self-promotion.

SYDELL: Analyst Dan Cryan from the media research firm Screen Digest. Pirate Bay is one of thousands of Web sites where fans can get access to free copies of hit songs, movies and television shows. With 22 million users, it is among the most popular in the world.

Mr. CRYAN: Pirate Bay promotional antics include everything from spoofing the international record industry's trade body Web site to a collection of emails and other sort of stunts.

SYDELL: Cryan says their high-profile antics turned them into the number one target for the entertainment industry, which says that online piracy is costing them billions of dollars of revenue a year.

A Swedish court found the Pirate Bay founders guilty of assisting users to commit copyright violations by providing them with the technological tools. Outside the Stockholm courthouse, Judge Thomas Nordstrom commented on the decision to reporters.

Judge THOMAS NORDSTROM (Stockholm, Sweden): They have been helpful to such an extent that they have entered into the (unintelligible) of criminal liability.

SYDELL: The court sentenced the defendants to a year in prison and ordered them to pay more than $3.5 million in damages. Defense attorneys had argued that the defendants weren't guilty because Pirate Bay doesn't actually have any illegal material on it. It just points users to where they can get the music of Coldplay, the latest Harry Potter film and hot video games.

One of the defendants, Peter Sunde, seemed surprised by the verdict and the sentence.

Mr. PETER SUNDE (Co-founder, Pirate Bay): Actual jail time was a bit surprising, actually. That is quite bizarre in Sweden.

SYDELL: Sunde and the other defendants plan to appeal the verdict.

Mr. SUNDE: I'm still quite confident that the higher up you go in the Swedish court system, the more fair judgments you'll get.

SYDELL: The entertainment industry hasn't been able to get a guilty verdict against sites like Pirate Bay in the United States because they aren't the ones who actually have the unauthorized material. But industry lawyers say this case sets an important precedent. Jo Oliver is an attorney with the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

Ms. JO OLIVER (Attorney, International Federation of the Phonographic Industry): Because The Pirate Bay was such a well-known site, the courts, the convictions and also the sentence serve as a deterrent to others who would engage in this sort of activity.

SYDELL: However, the defendants didn't seem to be deterred. Even after the verdict came down, The Pirate Bay was up and running, using servers set up somewhere outside of Sweden. In an Internet video, Pirate Bay's Sunde mocked the verdict. He held up a handwritten IOU.

Mr. SUNDE: I think that - this is the closest they're going to get to any money from us.

SYDELL: Indeed the entertainment industry may feel vindicated by the Swedish court's verdict, but the truth is that a decade of legal efforts to combat online piracy has done little to stop it. In fact, by most estimates, it continues to grow.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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