Swedes face cannon fire

H'wood attacks pesky file-sharer Pirate Bay

As all eyes turn to Hollywood for Sunday's Oscars, a court case is under way in Sweden that could determine the future of the film industry.

The combined forces of the MPAA, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industries and the RIAA have rallied in the suit aimed at sinking Stockholm-based Pirate Bay, one of the largest file-sharing Web sites.

Companies including Warner Bros., MGM, Columbia and Fox are demanding about $14 million in damages from Pirate Bay's founders, claiming that the site encourages copyright infringement. The four accused face up to two years imprisonment if found guilty.

The case got off to a bad start for Hollywood this week, with Swedish prosecutors dropping half of the original charges. Charges of "assisting copyright infringement" were dropped, leaving only the lesser charge of "assisting making available copyright material." The case is expected to last several weeks. With appeals, which could go all the way to the European Supreme Court, the case will likely drag on for years.

Pirate Bay has been a particularly sharp thorn in the MPAA's side since it launched in 2003 and quickly became the world's most high-profile file-sharing site. This month, it reported 22 million simultaneous users.

It hasn't helped that the company's founders have been particularly cocky in their approach to MPAA lawyers, posting all cease-and-desist letters they receive on their Web site, along with sarcastic replies.

"It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are ... morons," goes the reply to a DreamWorks letter. "Please don't sue us right now, our lawyer is passed out in an alley," is Pirate Bay's response to a complaint from video game giant Electronic Arts.

Legal and technical issues make the Pirate Bay case particularly complicated. Sweden's lax copyright laws have protected the site in the past, and the company's founders, who portray themselves more as Robin Hoods than buccaneers, enjoy widespread public support.

That was evident Wednesday night when hackers attacked the IFPI's site, adding a text criticizing the prosecutor in the case and, in the hackers' words, "declaring war against the anti-pirate industry." Pirate Bay defendants called the hack "really stupid," saying it can only hurt their cause. "We're winning, stop hacking plz," defendant Peter Sundin wrote in his blog commenting on the case. (partialdiff)

Technically, prosecuting Pirate Bay is made more difficult since the site does not host any illegal material but only provides a list of links to movies, TV shows and music available on users' home computers. In court, Pirate Bay's lawyers have used the so-called "King Kong" defense, arguing that prosecutors must prove the accused have had direct contact with "a user, call him King Kong," who has violated copyright law in order to prove guilt.

The Swedish Pirates have already proved adept at outmaneuvering the industry. Swedish authorities seized servers and shut down Pirate Bay last year, but the site relaunched within days using servers from outside the country. (partialdiff)
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