While the world’s attention has been captured by old-style pirates off the coast of Africa, a Swedish judge yesterday issued a landmark ruling against the other kind of pirates. 

Pia Ohlin for AFP:

A Stockholm court on Friday found four men guilty of promoting copyright infringement by running The Pirate Bay, one of the world’s top websites for illegal filesharing, and sentenced them to a year in prison. The court also ordered the four — Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm, Peter Sunde and Carl Lundstroem — to pay damages of 30 million kronor (2.72 million euros, 3.56 million dollars) to the recording industry, which hailed the ruling as a symbolic victory. “The Stockholm district court has today convicted the four people charged with promoting other people’s infringement of copyright laws,” the court said in a statement.

Representatives of the movie, music and video games industry had sought some 117 million kronor (10.6 million euros, 13.9 million dollars) in damages and interest for losses incurred from tens of millions of illegal downloads facilitated by the site.

Founded in 2003, The Pirate Bay makes it possible to skirt copyright fees and share music, film and computer game files using bit torrent technology, or peer-to-peer links offered on the site. None of the material can thus be found on The Pirate Bay server itself.The four, who have denied any wrongdoing, are expected to appeal the verdict and have previously vowed to take the case as high as the Swedish Supreme Court if necessary.

The Pirate Bay claims to have some 22 million users worldwide. “By providing a website with … well-developed search functions, easy uploading and storage possibilities, and with a tracker linked to the website, the accused have incited the crimes that the filesharers have committed,” the court said in a statement to the media. The court added that the four “knew that copyrighted material was being fileshared.” The one-year jail sentences were motivated by the “extensive accessibility of others’ (copy)rights and the fact that the operation was conducted commercially and in an organised fashion.”

IFPI, which represents the recording industry worldwide, hailed the decision.”The trial of the operators of The Pirate Bay was about defending the rights of creators, confirming the illegality of the service and creating a fair environment for legal music services that respect the rights of the creative community,” IFPI chairman and chief executive John Kennedy said in a statement. “Today’s verdict is the right outcome on all three counts,” he said, adding: “The court has also handed down a strong deterrent sentence that reflects the seriousness of the crimes committed.”

The history of such cases, however, would indicate that the industry should not take much comfort in this outcome.  Indeed, the Pirate Bay site is still in operation, “with servers spread among different countries.” 

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Counci.