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Peer-to-penalty: Six-year music sharing trial ends in €880 fine

After six years of proceedings, a criminal court in Lisbon has finally named the price of sharing three songs over the Internet: two months in prison, reduced to a €880 fine.

As ACTA slowly makes its way across the EU, a Portuguese criminal court has convicted a young man of violating copyright law, issuing a 60-day prison sentence as a result. But later, given the man’s age and lack of previous convictions, the sentence was changed to an 880-euro fine – a 640-euro penalty plus a payment of 4 euro for every day in prison.

The ruling comes full six years after the Portuguese Phonographic Association (AFP) filed its initial complaint against the man, who was just 17 at the time. The man was accused of sharing hundreds of songs through a P2P network, but final charges against him listed only three.

It is just the second Portuguese conviction for copyright violations committed on the Internet. Despite the nearly unprecedented ruling, Eduardo Simoes, the head of the AFP, sees few reasons for joy. Of the 28 cases brought to court during since 2006, only two concluded with a verdict.

"It is clear that the law cannot fight the distribution of illegal copies via P2P networks or blogs, because it is designed to stop piracy at markets," Simoes told Exame Informatica, a Portuguese newspaper, on Monday.

 

Simoes’ woes are also that scant evidence means most cases get permanently stuck mid-trial. The cost of the victory is questionable, too: the two proceedings which resulted in favorable rulings dragged on for years, while the fines paid by the offenders never exceeded €1200.

Web users see a different point to the story. P2P sharing is illegal, and can bring criminal procescution – but what about public services like YouTube?

To showcase the inconsistency, Nelson Cruz, a contributor to the PCManias online magazine, has arranged the three misfortunately shared songs into an "€880 songs" playlist and uploaded it to his YouTube account.

Cruz comes from Portugal, and one would expect such a gesture to quickly land him in a similar lawsuit. But surprisingly, while sharing songs through P2P networks and blogs goes punished, sharing the same content via YouTube seems perfectly acceptable.

To fight copyright violations more efficiently, Portugal should adopt France's so-called “three-strike” model, Eduardo Simoes suggests. There, authorities issue three warnings if a person is caught illegally sharing copyrighted data. If the suspected infringers continue sharing the data, then the violator’s Internet access is blocked, plain and simple.

Cruz argues this will only spare copyright owners from queues and bureaucracy, but will hardly be a democratic gesture.

“It's not just that it takes years to convict someone, but those pesky criminal courts demand serious evidence! It's so much easier to just accuse someone three times, and have the state automatically fine them or cut their Internet access,” writes Cruz in his blog.
“I don't even know why we bother to have traffic police and speed radars on the roads. We could all just report each other's license plates and have the police issue fines. That would work, right?” he adds.

The recent Portuguese conviction is just a whiff of what may come if the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is ratified by EU member countries. The agreement states that copyright piracy should be punishable with fines as well as imprisonment.