In a blow to the U.K. music industry's efforts to tackle piracy, a jury at Teeside Crown Court has cleared a 26-year-old software engineer who ran the BitTorrent tracker Oink of conspiracy to defraud.

Alan Ellis from Middlesbrough was accused of profiting to the tune of $18,000 a month in donations from the 200,000 registered users. It is estimated that 21 million downloads were facilitated by the site.

Ellis operated the site in the bedroom of his flat from 2004 until it was shut down in a police raid in 2007. Police found almost $300,000 in his accounts; he said this was to pay for rental of a server and ultimately to buy a server.

The site was hosted on his home computer but had moved to a commercial server in Amsterdam by 2007 because of the amount of traffic it was getting.

He told the court that he set up Oink to improved his programming skills while he was a student at Teeside University. Ellis, who had a full-time job as a software engineer and described Oink as a hobby, said there was no intention to defraud copyright holders.

Today (Jan. 15) he was unanimously acquitted by the jury of the single charge of conspiracy to defraud after seven days on trial. He declined to comment to reporters when he left the court.

"This is a hugely disappointing verdict which is out of line with decisions made in similar cases around the world, such as the Pirate Bay," said a spokesman for U.K. trade body the BPI in a statement. "The defendant made nearly £200,000 [$324,800] by exploiting other people's work without permission. The case shows that artists and music companies need better protection."

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