A Swedish court on Tuesday handed down the country's first Internet piracy conviction, fining a man 16,000 kronor ($2,000) for using a file-sharing network to distribute a movie online.
The Vastmanland district court ruled that Andreas Bawer (search), 28, violated Swedish copyright laws by making a Swedish movie available for others to download.
The verdict was hailed by the entertainment industry as a first step toward stricter enforcement of copyright laws in Sweden, which has been criticized as a safe haven for online piracy.
Up to 10 percent of all Swedes are estimated to freely swap music, movies and games on their computers.
File-sharing can be traced by tracking the Internet provider addresses of the computers that download or distribute the illegal file.
However, Swedish police can only request Internet operators to reveal who owns a specific IP address if they are suspected of a crime that warrants a prison sentence, said Daniel Westman, who teaches information technology law at Stockholm University (search).
Still, the verdict is "a very big step forward," said Henrik Ponten, a spokesman for the lobbying group Antipiratbyran, or the anti-piracy agency, which represents the Swedish entertainment industry.
"This sends a very strong signal to file sharers," Ponten said. "Now we have taken the first step toward a functioning copyright law."
Torbjorn Persson, Bawer's lawyer, said the fine was too big for only uploading one movie.
"This happened on one occasion, and it was one movie," Persson said. "In light of that, this was very harsh."
He said the verdict may indicate that courts are willing to hand out prison sentences to people who distribute a large number of copyrighted files on their computers.
"I cannot interpret this in any other way," Persson said.
He said his client has not yet decided whether he will appeal.
Westman said it is still possible that a court would impose a prison sentence against someone who has distributed a large number of illegal files.
"This verdict is only for one movie, and he is very close to a prison sentence," Ponten said. "I would estimate that five to 10 movies would be enough to get prison."