Expert: BitTorrent Conviction Unlikely to Be Copied in US

Hong Kong officials have successfully prosecuted a BitTorrent user for sharing three copyrighted movies on the file-sharing network.

Chan Nai-Ming, 38, was arrested in January by the Hong Kong Customs Services and will be sentenced Nov. 7. He faces up to four years in jail and a fine of up to about US$6,400. Chan had pleaded not guilty to copyright infringement for sharing movies “Miss Congeniality,” “Daredevil” and “Red Planet,” but was convicted after a four-day trial. It is an action one expert said is unlikely to be repeated in the United States.

Different Attitude

“There are laws on the books right now in the United States that would also send a person to jail for trading a single MP3 song on P2P file-sharing,” Robin Gross, executive director, IP Justice, told TechNewsWorld. “What may be different is the will of the U.S. public in allowing a person to be sent to prison for sharing music. A U.S. jury would likely not imprison someone for sharing music online, even though the law of the books does permit it.”

Unlike other peer-to-peer networks, BitTorrent works by splitting files into bits of information that are randomly distributed to peers (other computers) on the network. When a user requests the file, the software searches for the best connections and pieces it back together. Doing this eliminates the bandwidth bottlenecks that occur in other P2P networks and allows for the speedier transfer of larger files, such as movies.

BitTorrent’s creator, Bram Cohen, has been careful not to endorse illegal file-sharing, meaning that he is unlikely to be prosecuted.

First of Its Kind

The Hong Kong case is the first against a user of BitTorrent, although the FBI shut down Elite Torrents — a network using BitTorrent technology — in May, alleging copyright infringement.

Gross questioned the wisdom of using law enforcement to stop file-sharing. “One fundamental issues in this case is the idea of the punishment should fit the crime,” she said. “Can anyone seriously argue that putting consumers in prison for swapping songs on the Internet is the best solution? Many violent offenses receive less punishment these days. So there should be a re-calibration so the punishment fits the crime. P2P file-sharing is ultimately a business-model problem — not a legal problem.”

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