Four men involved with file-sharing Web site the Pirate Bay went on trial in Stockholm today (Feb. 16) accused of breaking Swedish copyright law, by enabling users to download copyrighted material including music, films and games.
There is huge global interest in the case, with the Times of London describing it as the "Internet piracy trial of the decade." The trial is set to determine the culpability of services such as the Pirate Bay in regard to the problem of online piracy.
With an estimated 22 million users, the Pirate Bay is either the most notorious or popular service of its kind, depending on which side of the BitTorrent debate you occupy.
The defendants -- Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij and Carl Lundstrom -- face up to two years in prison if they are convicted. They also face compensation and damages claims of 120 million kronor ($14.3 million). Plaintiffs in the case include Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., MGM Pictures Inc., Colombia Pictures Industries Inc., 20th Century Fox Films Co., Sony Music Entertainment, Universal and EMI.
Lundstrom has financed the site, which the other three work on. They claim the service is legal and pleaded innocent. It doesn't host copyrighted content, but serves as a BitTorrent tracker, directing users to torrents of films, music and games.
In his opening arguments, prosecutor Hakan Roswall said the defendants broke the law by encouraging the sharing of copyrighted material.
"It's not the BitTorrent protocol that is accused today," he said. "Like all comparable systems that can be used legally or illegally it's not the technology itself, but the people who use the technology in an illegal way -that is what this trial is about."
Around a dozen Pirate Bay supporters reportedly gathered outside the courtroom today, waving black pirate flags. During a press conference yesterday (Feb. 15), Sunde said: "It does not matter if they require several million (kronor) or one billion. We are not rich and have no money to pay."
"They have already failed to take down the site once. Let them fail again," Svartholm Warg added. The case follows a May 2006 raid by police on 10 locations in central Sweden; servers and computer equipment were seized and the site was temporarily shut down.
The Pirate Bay has an associated political organization in Sweden, Piratbyran (the Piracy Bureau), which supports file-sharing and the freedom to share culture and information generally.
"The criminal prosecution of the Pirate Bay is about protecting creators from those who violate their rights and deprive them of their deserved rewards," said IFPI chairman and CEO John Kennedy. "The Pirate Bay has hurt creators of many different kinds of works, from music to film, from books to TV programmes. It has been particularly harmful in distributing copyrighted works prior to their official release. This damages sales of music at the most important time of their lifecycle.
"The evidence in this case will show that the Pirate Bay is a commercial business which made substantial amounts of money for its operators, despite their claim to be only interested in spreading culture for free."