Friday, May 18, 2007

BitTorrent pirate loses appeal in landmark case

Authorities believe a Hong Kong man who lost his appeal today in the territory's highest court is the first in the world to be convicted of downloading pirated movies using BitTorrent file-sharing technology.

Chan Nai-ming, who used the alias 'Big Crook' on the peer-to-peer BitTorrent network, was found guilty in October 2005 of copyright infringement and attempting to distribute three Hollywood movies using the popular file-sharing software.

While Internet users have used BitTorrent technology for years to download movies undetected, Chan was caught red-handed by a Hong Kong Customs officer in January 2005.

The three movies Chan was convicted of pirating were Dare-Devil, Miss Congeniality and Red Planet.

"He plainly succeeded in distributing copies of the films in question," the five-member Court of Final Appeal said in its judgment. "The appeal must accordingly be dismissed."

Chan had been sentenced to three months imprisonment, and had served several weeks in prison before the appeal against his conviction.

The defence argued that Chan merely enabled BitTorrent users "to make copies of their own" of movies stored on his hard disk, rather than trying to "transfer" any copy in his possession, according to the judgment.

But the judgment rejected that argument, saying Chan "did create and have possession of such a copy, transiently or otherwise, for distribution to the downloading swarm".

The Hong Kong government welcomed the judgment, saying it clarified the law regarding Internet piracy.

The BitTorrent system is designed to distribute large amounts of data such as movies by allowing individual computers to "share" the material they are downloading from a source.

Hong Kong's Commerce Secretary said the posting of copyrighted materials in Hong Kong using BitTorrent had dropped 80 per cent within a year of Chan's arrest in 2005.