Pirates May Hold Law At Bay

One of the most high-profile cases in Swedish legal history may still have further to run as the four defendants convicted of copyright infringements are reportedly questioning the suitability of the judge.

Four men behind The Pirate Bay were convicted in the Stockholm District Court April 17, but it’s since emerged that trial judge Tomas Norström is a member of two pro-copyright groups, including one whose membership includes entertainment industry reps who argued in the case.

The defendants, who were sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay £3 million in damages to entertainment companies including Warner Bros. and Sony Music Entertainment, are set to challenge the verdict in the Court Of Appeal.

Although the international recorded music business has applauded the court’s decision, the defendants won’t go to prison until the appeal has been heard. Also, as it was a criminal prosecution, the convictions themselves do not end the operation of the service. The authorities are believed to be taking further legal steps to protect rights holders from its continued operation.

Peter Althin, who represents The Pirate Bay spokesman Peter Sunde, who is one of the four convicted in the case, said it was for the Appeal Court to decide if there was to be a retrial.

“In the autumn I received information that a lay judge could have similar connections. I sent these to the court and the judge was excluded in order to prevent a conflict of interest. It would have been reasonable to review this situation as well,” he told Sveriges Radio.

Judge Norstrom, a member of the Swedish Copyright Association and on the board of the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property, told Swedish Radio these activities “do not constitute a conflict of interest.”

Also speaking to the BBC, Sven-Erik Alhem – a former senior attorney in Sweden – said the judge had made an error of judgment but a retrial was unlikely.

“The judge should have told the parties of his other engagements. Had he done that then they could make a decision on whether they wanted him as a judge in their case,” he explained.

For the creative industries, the significance of the trial lies in the size of The Pirate Bay’s operation. It is believed to be the world’s biggest BitTorrent tracker and is available in 34 languages.

In February 2009, the site reportedly had 22 million simultaneous users, and one of the defendants said in an interview in July 2007 that 50 percent of all torrents on the Internet used The Pirate Bay trackers.

The service is displaying about 1.6 million torrent files linking to films, music tracks and other media.

Meanwhile, Sunde and two members of the country’s Green Party – which has already shown support to the pirates – are launching a fund to help people accused of copyright violations under the country’s new anti-piracy law.

It’s intended to help people who are prosecuted by copyright-holding companies.

The Swedish government’s attempts to deter people from illegal downloading were undermined April 28, when three of the country’s ISPs – including major broadband operator Tele2 – said that they will erase traffic data to protect their customers’ privacy.

Their decision to stop storing information on customers’ IP numbers is a serious stumbling block to any organisation investigating piracy.