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British file sharer cleared by jury

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Britain’s first case of widespread file sharing has spurned copyright holders and acquitted a Middlesbrough man of conspiracy to defraud after he earned more than £200,000 from illegal downloads.

Alan Ellis was accused by prosecutors of reaping hundreds of thousands of pounds from his website, created in May 2004. Over 200,000 users are thought to have accessed the site, downloading over two million music, video and other copyrighted files.

Following an investigation in 2007, Mr Ellis’ Middlesbrough home was raided by police and details of began to emerge.

Unlike much-harassed and highlighted file sharing site,, whose owners were fined £3m for copyright breaches last year, was an invitation only site, with users just asked to offer a donation before joining. Prosecutors claimed that Mr Ellis earned close to £18,000 a month from donations.

However, the court ruled that as Oink only gave internet links to illegal files, and did not host any illegal material itself, the liability for illegal downloads was with Oink’s users.

The jury unanimously found that Mr Ellis, who claimed he created the site to practise his university-taught IT skills, was not in breach of copyright law and the charge of fraud was thrown out.

For anti-piracy campaigners the ruling has been a serious setback in the fight against copyright abuse. Mr Ellis would have become a prominent warning to others that file-sharing would be severely punished by the courts, but this week’s ruling has shown that current legislation is someway behind modern technology.

“This is a hugely disappointing verdict,” said a spokesman for music industry body the BPI. “The defendant made nearly £200,000 by exploiting other people’s work without permission. The case shows that artists and music companies need better protection.”

Written by Andrew Hodges

January 25, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Posted in Comment, LinkedIn

Tagged with , ,

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