Towards the end of 2013, the Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft (Safact) revealed that a man accused of Internet piracy had been arrested in Cape Town.
A first for South Africa, the man, whose name was later revealed to be Majedien Norton, plead guilty to the crime in exchange for a suspended sentence.
Norton received a suspended 5-year prison sentence and no fine.
Technology lawyers have previously said that for illegally distributing copyrighted content, first-time offenders can look at a maximum penalty of 3 years in jail and a R5,000 fine per item.
According to the court documents of Norton’s case, a Safact investigator spotted an exchange on Twitter that suggested that the film Norton confessed to uploading, Four Corners, had been leaked online.
Four Corners is a coming-of-age gang film set in the Cape Flats, which was also South Africa’s official entry to the 86th annual Academy Awards for best foreign language film.
Sources say that Norton wasn’t the original leak of the film, however, and that bootleg DVDs of Four Corners had been available on the streets of the Cape Flats for some time before he uploaded it.
Norton, who is from Cape Flats, ripped one of these DVDs to make a .mp4 file, which he eventually uploaded via The Pirate Bay.
The Safact investigator found Norton’s torrent, where it had been uploaded under the nickname “machos123”.
Norton goes by Majedien Machos Norton on Facebook and the @machos69 Twitter handle also bears his name.
Though this information was not enough to arrest him, it was the starting point of the investigation.
The second piece of identifying information, which was publicly available, was Norton’s IP address at the time.
Due to the way the peer-to-peer BitTorrent protocol works, the IP addresses of people uploading or downloading the files of a torrent are shared with one another. Finding an IP address linked to a torrent can therefore be relatively easy.
From there, the South African Police Service requested a section 205 subpoena, which the court issued.
This court order was then served on Norton’s Internet service provider, which had to reveal that the IP address in question was assigned to him during the time that the torrent was being monitored.
The ISP was also compelled to reveal his address and whatever other records it had on him.
Armed with his address, the police obtained a search warrant and affidavits from residents, which confirmed he was indeed the person who used the computer the day it was uploaded.
Finally, this led to Norton’s arrest and his subsequent initial appearance in the Cape Town Commercial Crimes Court on 13 December 2013.
No legal precedent
As the first case involving online distribution of copyrighted content, Norton’s trial had the potential to set legal precedent in South Africa.
Since it did not go to trial, however, there is still no case law on the issue of sharing copyrighted content using peer-to-peer technologies such as BitTorrent.
Legal experts have warned that, while downloading content without a license is a civil matter, the uploading or “seeding” built into BitTorrent means using it to illegally obtain copyrighted content is criminal.
This is because it is a crime to distribute copyrighted content without permission in South Africa, lawyers have argued.