Studios demand sentences for website operators

BERLIN — As the trial brought by Warner Bros., MGM, 20th Century Fox and Sony against the operators of Stockholm-based file-sharing website Pirate Bay comes to a close this week, Swedish prosecutors today demanded jail sentences for the defendants.

The majors have accused Pirate Bay and its crew — Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij and Carl Lundstrom — of costing them millions in the illicit traffic of films, music and software.

They are suing for $14.3 million in damages, backed by the combined power of the Motion Picture Assn., the Intl. Federation of the Phonographic Industry and the Recording Industry Assn. of America. But the four may also serve up to a year in jail each.

Prosecutors have argued that the four Swedes violated copyright laws and enriched themselves via Pirate Bay, one of the biggest file-sharing websites worldwide, boasting about 1 million visitors a day.

Comparing Pirate Bay to Google and YouTube, the defendants maintain that they offer nothing more than a technical platform that allows computers to connect to each other and stress that they are not responsible for what users do once they are connected.

Making his closing arguments on Monday, prosecutor Hakan Roswall argued that Pirate Bay was far more than the “hobby site,” adding that it generated net profits of around 10 million kronor ($1.1 million) a year.

The Hollywood majors have faced an uphill battle against Pirate Bay, due in part to Sweden’s murky laws surrounding the legality of torrent trackers — the torrent files provided by Pirate Bay contain no copyright data themselves but merely point to sources of pirated content.

In addition, the Pirate Bay founders have widespread support from the public, which see them as rebellious buccaneers standing up to multinational corporations.

Pirate Bay has been described as the flagship of a national file-sharing movement in Sweden that is generating intense national debate and has spawned a political party that is bidding for seats in the Swedish and European parliaments. It wants reform of copyright law and the dissolution of the patent system.

The court is set to deliver its verdict on Wednesday.

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