Court drops BitTorrent piracy case

Prosecutors have dealt a blow to anti-piracy initiatives by dropping their case against two men accused of pirating films online. Two administrators of FileSoup – the longest standing BitTorrent community – had their case dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

George Cartledge, from Glasgow, and Stephen Lanning, from Somerset, faced charges of conspiracy to infringe copyright over their involvement in FileSoup, a website founded in 2003. The CPS told Bristol Crown Court it would not proceed with the trial following legal advice that the alleged copyright infringements were a civil rather than a criminal matter. They were arrested in August 2009, after detectives were contacted by film industry lobby group  the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT).

In the summer of 2010, the pair were charged with conspiracy to infringe copyright for their involvement with the site, reportedly with evidence solely gathered by FACT, no independent investigation being carried out by the police. The charges cited the alleged unlawful sharing of three Hollywood films, including X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The movie was stolen and leaked onto filesharing networks in April 2009, before its official release, prompting an FBI investigation. FACT claimed that Cartledge and Lanning subsequently conspired to infringe the film copyright, owned by 20th Century Fox.

The case bore similarity to that of Alan Ellis, the administrator of OiNK, a music-sharing BitTorrent website. Ellis was acquitted of conspiracy to defraud in January 2010, having argued that his involvement was akin to providing a  Google-likeservice and was not responsible if users chose to infringe copyright. Both FileSoup and OiNK offered links to BitTorrent downloads, but the actual film and music files were shared directly between users.

David Cook, solicitor for Cartledge, who also acted in the OiNK case, said the case was not a one-off, there having been two prosecutions for allegations which were “fundamentally flawed. We have persistently worked in exposing the flaws in these cases which have resulted in the absolute failure of both prosecutions.” Cook pointed out that Cartledge received no financial benefit through his involvement in FileSoup, and accused the CPS and police of failing to independently investigate the matter. Solicitors for Lanning said: “The Court of Appeal has found that cases involving complex issues of copyright law are much more appropriately heard in the civil courts rather than the criminal courts.”

FACT could now pursue the matter through the civil courts, according to Avon and Somerset Police, which said it would support such action. FACT declined to comment.

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