A Hong Kong court has sentenced a man to three months in prison in what is believed to be the first jailing for sharing movie files.
A Hong Kong court has sentenced a man to three months in prison in what is believed to be the first jailing for sharing movie files over the popular online Bit Torrent network.
In a stark warning to online file sharers worldwide, Chan Nai-ming, 38, an unemployed man who called himself "Big Crook", was jailed for uploading three Hollywood movies onto the Web via the BitTorrent (BT) network.
In sentencing, magistrate’s court judge Colin Mackintosh served notice on online pirates the world over.
"The message has to be sent out by courts that the distribution of infringing copies, particularly by seeding films onto the Internet, will not be treated leniently," Mackintosh said in his judgement.
Although several online file sharers using services other than Bit Torrent have received jail sentences, most recently in Taiwan and the United States, all were either suspended or later converted to fines.
Chan was arrested in January and charged in April for uploading the movies "Daredevil", "Miss Congeniality" and "Red Planet" onto the Internet without a licence by using the BT peer-to-peer file-sharing program.
The Hong Kong customs and excise department has said Chan was the first person in the world to be charged with violating copyright laws through the use of BT technology.
BT is a programme that works by allowing downloads from multiple sources, each supplying a small part of the whole.
It offers high-speed downloads allowing Internet users to easily trade and share music, movie and software files.
When anyone downloads a BT file, it becomes a source for the others. Thus, locating those who upload or download material can be a difficult and complicated process, industry observers said.
Industry figures said Chan’s conviction would deter would-be downloaders.
"The conviction of Chan Nai-ming sends a message to pirates that you can and will be found and prosecuted for the theft of intellectual property," said Mike Ellis, senior vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in Asia Pacific.
"The lesson of Chan Nai-ming is that there is a price to pay for intellectual property crimes in Hong Kong. Chan is paying that price today, and doubtless others will pay a price in future."
The BT service is among a number of so-called peer-to-peer online file sharing services, which includes Limewire and KaZaa, that Internet surfers use to share files. The makers of music, movies and software say illegal sharing of coyprighted material is losing them billions of dollars each year.
Chan was convicted of copyright infringement by the local Tuen Mun court in Hong Kong’s suburban New Territories on October 24.
Customs officials say that since then use of the Web-based service in Hong Kong has dropped by 80%.
Chan faced a maximum of four years in prison.
Mackintosh said he reduced the term because this was Chan’s first offence and the first sentencing for such a case in the world.
However, the judge said anyone else caught illegally sharing files in the wake of his judgement could expect tougher treatment.
"I made some reductions (to the) term to reflect the fact this is the first such conviction," the judge told court.
He said all users of the BitTorrent system were opening themselves up for potential prosecution.
"The defendant and those with whom he associated through the Bit Torrent community were fully aware of the criminality of uploading things through (the network)," he said.
Industry observers said the time it took to bring a prosecution was a problem hindering a comprehensive crackdown.