Reportedly Turned in By Fellow Pirate, Swede Gets Fined $625,000
December 18, 2013 1:43 PM
During questioning, the torrent ringleader seemed to admit guilt saying he knew the uploads "were not entirely ok"
A Swedish judge at the
Västmanlands District Court
(one of 48 district courts spread out across Sweden) ordered a Swedish man to pay $625,000 USD for his role as an active moderator/administrator at one of Sweden's most notorious early torrent sites -- Swebits.org.
I. The Crime
The judge said that the prosecution showed compelling evidence that the suspect (who as not named (NN)), a man in Sala, Sweden, had broken Swedish copyright law in obtaining 518 movies and TV shows from members-only warez sites and then posting torrents to Swebits.org. The alleged activity occurred between early 2008 and early 2011.
A trio of media companies pressed Swedish law enforcement to charge the unnamed pirate after the result of a private investigation. They called the man one of Sweden's "worst-ever" pirates. They included:
AB Svensk Filmindustri
(The Swedish Film Comp. -- a subsidiary of the privately owned AB Bonnier)
Nordisk fdm (a Danish film company; subsidiary of the privately owned Egmont Group)
a local Scandinavian subsidiary of The Walt Disney Comp. (
A top moderator of early Swedish torrrent site swebits.org has received a major punishment. [Image Source: FidelNing.se]
During the investigation,
("The Anti-Piracy Agency") -- a copyright watchdog group representing 30 big media companies -- hired retired Swedish police officer Anders Nilsson -- now with the private investigator firm Legal Alliance -- to investigate the suspect in the case.
He identified the site's most prolific uploader ("Marcil") and used an IP-sniffer to identify torrents he uploaded and try to download movies as soon as they were posted, and only from the suspect.
use of IP address to establish guilt is questionable
, as IP addresses (whether secured or open) are oft taken over by people looking to incriminate someone or carry out illicit activities such as hacking or piracy.
Judgments in the U.S.
have deemed IP addresses as not a legitimate way to identify file-sharers. However, in this case the investigation of the suspect's IP was more thorough and specific (by the sound of its account in the judgment). Further, little room was left for ambiguity, as the suspect seemed to acknowledge guilt during questioning by the prosecution.
The unnamed suspect ended discussion of the legitimacy of IP tracking in the case when he effectively admited guilt. [Image Source: iStock]
In the case, Mr. Sala was represented by Swedish lawyer
, a local advokat (public defender). The Kammaråklagare (prosecutor) in the case was Henrik Rasmusson, of the Internationella åklagarkammaren (Internation Public Prosecution Office) called the defendant Sweden's "worst-ever" individual movie pirate.
As mentioned, the case did not go well for the accused Swedish piracy mod who appeared to crack during questioning.
Asked about the movie uploads, the suspect said that he could not remember if he uploaded the films and that he felt "shaken and dizzy". When the prosecutor pressed him, asking "if he knew what he did was criminal", the suspect reportedly seemed to acknowledge guilty, saying that "he knew to some extent, namely in the sense that he knew that it was not entirely ok."
II. Betrayed by His Own?
The Judge noted that Swebits.org was a popular site, as it was careful to remove any torrents users report as non-working, inactive, or malware compromised, something that larger sites like
The Pirate Bay
don't always police.
A highly intriguing aspect of the case not reported elsewhere is that the unnamed suspect reportedly was investigated only after his activity was reported to media legal teams by a jealous rival pirate (or so the prosecution claims).
Piracy is very popular Sweden, however the unnamed pirate was unlucky enough to be turned in by someone aware of his activities. Prosecutors believe this source was a jealous fellow pirate site admin. [Image Source: Dazzle Ships]
The prosecution stated that Swebits.org and its unnamed moderator were "possibly becoming too successful", which ultimately drew the ire of competitors. The anti-piracy group claims "someone [in the piracy community] reported him [to the Antipiratbyran]" and that they believed the report was because "others became jealous of him", based on their investigation of forums commentary.
[Image Source: Alt1040]
It's possible the testimony is just propaganda by the big media lawyers to seed dissent and uncertainty in the Swedish piracy community. But anyone who's been involved in internet development and moderation knows that the internet does tend to be rife with jealousy and backstabbing. Given that such accounts haven't generally been seen in other cases, it's somewhat more believable in this one.
III. The Punishment
As the suspect appeared clearly guilty by his own testimony, he was found guilty of violating copyright law under Chapters 1§1 and Chapter 7§53 of the Copyright Act of 1960.
He escaped prison time, receiving probation and 160 hours of community service.
The convicted pirate must pay over $650,000 USD to the owners of the works he shared, plus perform community service. [Image Source: Future Currency Forecast]
He was ordered to pay the media groups SEK 4,300,000, which works out about $657,600 USD at current exchange rates. The convicted pirate also must pay interest on the unpaid part of that sum under the Interest Act of 1976 until it's paid off.
He also has to pay a small fee of SEK 500 (~$75 USD) to a fund for crime victims. The defense attorney received roughly $15,290 USD -- SEK 80,730 $12,240 USD from the state and SEK 20,000 ($3,050 USD) from his client.
IV. Media Offers Misleading Verdict
Many news sites are seizing on the fact that the judge awarded the over half million (USD) settlement based on a single infringement claim -- a total which represents the full cost of a distribution license from film studios which movie theaters or TV broadcaster purchase. Headlines include "
Swedish 'pirate' hit with £403,000 damages for sharing single movie
" from The Guardian and "
Torrent Site Uploader Ordered to Pay $652,000 For Sharing One Movie
While technically true, it seems disingenuous to focus on that, as the damages awarded by the judge represented the entire infringements -- the remaining 517 of which were assigned to the community service part of the judgment.
The pirate was not accused of sharing just one movie, but over 500. [Image Source: Yahoo! Finance]
To their credit, both sources eventually explained that the verdict covered hundreds of files later in their pieces. But as a result of their initial byline many on Twitter and on blog outlets parroted the aforementioned claim, losing the context altogether.
It didn't help that
(Rättighetsalliansen) lawyer Henrik Pontén fed this loss of context, stating to
[The $652,000] refers to compensation and is equal to what the man would have paid if he had bought a license to distribute the movie for free downloads. The man also has to pay damages for other losses such as disturbing the market and goodwill losses. This shows what damages are caused to the creators and rights holders by the illegal file-sharing of one movie.
A couple things are important to consider when looking at these kinds of cases objectively, from neither a pro-piracy or anti-piracy standpoint. First, it's important to compare the fines charged to similar offline crimes. Second, it's important to consider the person's role in the infringement.
For example, in judgments like the American lawsuit against Jammie Thomas-Rasset --
a $1.5M USD verdict
for 1,702 shared songs on Kazza (24 of which were used in the case), eventually
reduced to $222,000 USD on appea
l. Or we could look at
Joel Tenenbaum -- a $675,000 USD verdict
for an unknown amount of songs shared via Kazaa, of which 30 were select – which appear on the surface to be similar.
The case is very different than that of convicted American pirates like Jammie Thomas-Rasset. Where those American pirates were mere accomplices from a technical standpoint, the pirate in this case was a ringleader. [Image Source: Joonbug]
However, in this case, the unnamed Swede carried out an active role in personally obtained media with copyright protections removed and acting as the initial source. Further he moderate and helped maintain the website -- something he was not charged for, but should be reflected upon.
By contrast Ms. Thomas-Rasset and Mr. Tenenbaum's songs were shared via Kazaa, a now defunct peer-to-peer client that automatically shared folders that the user includes, unless a user special configures the client or explicit tells it not to. Further, these Americans were likely not the initial source of the media, but were simply passing it along; hence the case is more analogous to passing of petty stolen goods, rather than theft.
Lastly, the American pirates did not personally maintain or upload the software they used in their infringement (Kazaa), which means both they were likely less aware of the danger of their actions (regardless of how foolish such ignorance is) and played a far lesser role in promoting piracy of copyrighted works.
V. Why the U.S. Piracy Punishments are Arbitrary and Punitive
In that regard while many will perceive the Swedish piracy judgment as even more punitive (based on the misleading assertion it only involved one movie) than the American cases, or at best equally punitive, an inspection of the circumstances and technical realities shows this is not the case.
[Image Source: Counterfeit Chic]
That's not to say the judgment is fair or that there are provisions in the law that explicitly reflect the aforementioned circumstances and technical differentiations. However, in terms of fairness, if you operate under the assumption that piracy is a crime, you would expect a criminal ringleader (e.g. the Swedish suspect) to receive a much larger punishment than a mere minor accessory after the fact (e.g. Ms. Thomas-Rasset and Mr. Tanenbaum).
Thus the fact that the judgments in those American cases are as big or nearly as big as those in the Swedish case is a testament to how much more punitive the U.S. system is with respect to copyright law. The Swedish government is also relatively aggressive in pursuing copyright enforcement, but it fails to match the extraordinary punishments doled out by the U.S. legal system.
The U.S. is a lot more arbitrary and punitive when it comes to piracy punihsments, allowing big media to go after not just the moderators of top piracy sites, but mere fileshares, as well.
[Image Source: South Park Studios]
Further, the fact that the U.S. system deals such punishments to just a couple arbitrary picks among likely millions of accomplices (users) at the peak of Kazaa -- is another key problem about the American system. By contrast, fair or unfair, this case wasn't exactly arbitrary charges against a select accomplice -- it pursues a piracy ringleader.
Appendix I. Sweden -- a Pirate's Life
The city of is located roughly 1 hour and 30 minutes west and slightly north of Stockholm, the capital city.
View Larger Map
Sweden is a well known hotbed for piracy and copyright reformists. It was
the birthplace of
The Pirate Bay
, which does not directly host torrents, but is the world's most used
source of torrents via magnet links
Swedish Pirate Party's EU parliamentarian Amelia Andersdotter [Image Source: The Mary Sue]
The Swedish Piratpartiet
(Pirate Party) and its affiliate nonprofit advocacy organization Piratbyrån (Pirate Agency) (which morphed after the death of founder Ibi Kopimi Botani in 2010 into Telecomix, a more decentralized successor) have seen significant traction in Sweden. The party currently has
two of Sweden's twenty European Parliament seats
(ten percent) providing a
key reformist voice
in the region.
The success has inspired other "Pirate Parties" including some in the U.S. In some regions these parties have won local or provincial elections, but only two other nations have come close to matching the success of the Swedish reform party. These are the Czech Republic's
Ceská pirátská strana
-- whose member Libor Michálek won a national senate seat -- and Iceland's
-- whose members Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Jón Þór Ólafsson and Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson hold three seats in Iceland's Althing (the nation's parliament).
Appendix II. Methodology for Studying the Ruling
Those curious in reading more can go to the verdict itself, which is
In analyzing the case, I made use of
as the court judgment is in Swedish (which I do not speak). Google Translate produced mostly clear results (with a bit of adjustment for grammar), but for one sentence (encountered while translating that bit about the fellow pirate turning him in), Google's translation was goofy and seemingly self-contradictory with the rest of the sentence, so I used the
Smart Link Corp. translator
which produced what seemed to be correct results). I suggest a similar approach for your own research.
Document Cloud [copy of judgement]
"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain
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Another Judge Rules IP Addresses Can't be Used to Identify People
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