The issue of downloading in Italy has been at the center of a recent media storm, following the publication of a decision by an court judgment in Rome.

The sentence handed down in Italy's foremost criminal court -- Corte di Cassazione -- prompted several national newspapers to announce that "free downloading is now legal, as long as it is not for financial gain," something that has been denied by labels bodies FIMI and IFPI.

The sentence in question was announced by the third penal section of the court on Jan. 9, and was reported by the national press on Jan. 20.

According to national daily Il Corriere della Sera, the judge in question Claudio Vitalone annulled (with sentence 149) a previous sentence that had been handed down in Turin.

The sentence referred to a case in which two students at the city's Politecnico (university) had been sentenced to 3 months and 10 days in prison for copyright infringement, after having created a "peer to peer" file-sharing group in 1999.

According to Il Corriere, the two anonymous students had been found guilty of violating article 171 of the country's copyright law (633/41). The newspaper reported that Vitalone overruled the previous sentence on the grounds that "financial gain must mean notable earnings, or an increase in net worth, on the part of those responsible for the act," something that was not applicable in the case of the two students (who have since graduated).

In a statement, labels body FIMI accused the Italian media of "trying to create a scoop out of a non-story." The trade body states that it is still illegal to proliferate material without the author's permission.

The case did indeed apply to law 633/41, FIMI admits, but specified that subsequent legislation (law 246/2000, the application of the European Union Directive on Copyright and the Urbani Law of 2004) had in fact modified the law.

According to FIMI, under Italian law today, the punishment for unauthorized downloading is a fine, while unauthorized uploading continues to be a criminal offence.