The creator of the BitTorrent tracking site Oink's Pink Palace (Oink), Alan Ellis, has been cleared of conspiracy to defraud the music industry by a jury at Teesside Crown Court. The site, which was invitation-only and encouraged donations from members, provided a forum for the free sharing of copyrighted music files, including several albums which had not yet been released.
The prosecution in the case alleged that Mr Ellis earned several hundred thousand pounds in donations from approximately 180,000 members, and that Oink had facilitated a total of 21 million downloads. Ellis, however, argued that he did not intend to defraud copyright holders and set up the site to practice his computing skills. Furthermore, the site was not a money-making scheme as the money earned from donations was used to pay for renting a server, and any surplus funds were apparently to be used to purchase a new server in the future.
In addition, Ellis argued that his site provided a similar service to Google, in that it merely afforded a connection between people that wanted to share music, rather than holding the music on the site itself. He also pointed out that he was in regular contact with the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry and other copyright holders and was not told to cease operation of the site during this time, rather, the IFPI used the site to promote itself before eventually ordering the takedown.
Last year, four former members of the site pleaded guilty to uploading music to others via Oink. Three of them were ordered to do community service and pay court costs, while the fourth was fined £500.
The Ellis case illustrates the difficulties which exist in bringing successful prosecutions against alleged copyright infringers under the current legal framework. The government and media industry bodies such as the IFPI and BPI are therefore keen to ensure that the Digital Economy Bill, currently under review in the House of Lords, provides a more effective (and less demanding) means of protecting copyright holders from infringement.