The music, film and entertainment industries were celebrating a rare victory over Internet copyright pirates on Thursday after a Swedish court handed down prison sentences and hefty fines to four men behind the world’s most notorious filesharing Web site.
In what is being described as a landmark verdict, the quartet in charge of The Pirate Bay (TPB) — which offers thousands of movies, TV shows and tracks of music for download — were found guilty of helping to illegally distribute copyrighted material and sentenced to a year in prison and fines totaling US$3.5 million.
The ruling by a judge in Stockholm marks the culmination of a two-year case brought by a consortium of media and entertainment companies, led by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).
“This is good news for everyone — in Sweden and internationally — who is making a living or a business from creative activity and who needs to know their rights will protected by law,” IFPI chairman John Kennedy said. “It would have been very difficult to put on a brave face if we had lost, but this verdict sends a strong educational and deterrent message.”
The defendants, who have cultivated an image of rebellious outsiders, reacted acidly to the news, however, calling the verdict “bullshit,” promising to appeal and signaling that they would not shut the site down.
“Nothing will happen to TPB, us personally or filesharing whatsoever,” said Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi, one of the site’s founders, on Twitter. “This is just a theater for the media.”
Since it first launched in 2003, The Pirate Bay has become the poster child for illegal downloading, used by millions of people to get copies of the latest movies, TV shows and music releases.
Although the site had been raided by police several times, its creators argued that they were not acting illegally under Sweden’s interpretation of copyright law.
They also taunted the authorities by promoting high-profile downloads of new Hollywood films and responding to legal threats by posting insults online.
In one exchange with DreamWorks — the film studio behind hits including Gladiator and Shrek — The Pirate Bay lashed out with verbal abuse and accusations of US imperialism.
“Sweden is not a state in the United States of America ... US law does not apply here,” they said. “It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are morons and that you should sodomize yourself with retractable batons.”
Lawyers representing the four men had maintained that The Pirate Bay was essentially no different from Google, merely acting as a search engine of online content.
It does not host pirated files itself, but tracks the location of copyrighted files and provides links to chunks of material known as torrents hosted elsewhere. As such, it does not directly infringe copyright, their lawyers said.
That contention was partially successful, with prosecutors forced to drop half of their charges against the men early in the trial.
However, the quartet’s championing of piracy and their antagonistic attitude counted against them as the court found them guilty on 33 counts of making files accessible for illegal sharing and ordered that compensation be divided between a consortium including Sony BMG, Universal, MGM and 20th Century Fox.
Three of the men found guilty yesterday — Kolmisoppi, Fredrik Neij and Gottfrid Svartholm Warg — were involved in the day-to-day operation of the Web site. The fourth, Carl Lundstrom, a Swedish food magnate turned extreme rightwing politician, provided funds that helped keep it running.