Digital Top Stories

Oink man not guilty

By | Published on Monday 18 January 2010

So, as probably expected, the man behind the infamous Oink BitTorrent tracker and file-sharing community was found not guilty guvnor at the end of his trial, for conspiracy to defraud the music business, at Teesside Crown Court on Friday afternoon.

As previously reported, Alan Ellis was the man behind the invite-only Oink file-sharing community which was shut down in 2007 following a joint investigation by British and Dutch police, working in collaboration with UK and global record label trade bodies the BPI and IFPI. While four prolific users of the community were previously successfully prosecuted for simple copyright crimes, Ellis was tried for the more serious offence of conspiracy to defraud.

The prosecution claimed that Ellis had deliberately and deviously set out to profit big time from his file-sharing operation, which encouraged users to make cash donations (the prosecution claimed said donations were compulsory when a user wanted to introduce a friend, though former users of the service have denied that was so). As previously reported, prosecutors also said that some $300,000 in donations had been raised by the time the service was shut down.

According to local Teesside newspaper The Gazette, prosecutor Peter Makepeace told jurors on Friday: “This was a cash cow, it was perfectly designed to profit him and it was as dishonest as the day is long. We say this was a criminal conspiracy to operate a pirate music-sharing website that facilitated the sharing of copyrighted music. This was a website specifically designed for that purpose. It was – one has to give credit to Mr Ellis – perfectly designed to achieve that aim. It was a smooth-running, wonderful machine designed for the purpose of doing this and achieving this at an extraordinary rate”.

He continued: “The money kept rolling on in. Kerching, kerching, kerching. He sat back just counting the brass. Oink is dishonest because common sense says it’s dishonest. It’s obviously dishonest. He knows it’s dishonest because he’s not stupid. He knows it’s dishonest to promote, encourage and facilitate criminal activity. This man is patently and obviously acting dishonestly and he patently and obviously knows that he is”.

As also previously reported, Ellis argued that he originally set up the Oink community to test and develop his own programming skills, and that he was never motivated by plans to profit from the file-sharing phenomenon. Donations, he argued, were to pay for the costs of hosting the service, and would ultimately have been used to buy the operation its own server. Meanwhile, he said he was not aware that his service, in itself, could be guilty of copyright infringement, believing that while members of his community may be liable for such infringement, that he had no such liabilities as the operator of the Oink platform itself. He added that no one in the music industry – despite them clearly being aware of his operation – made any effort to explain that operating the site could amount to infringement.

Ellis’ defence lawyer Alex Stein argued: “This was all a brave new world in 2004. It was like the Wild West on the internet. [Ellis was] like a rabbit caught in headlights, who might be seen as deluded but did not come to court to lie. [In fact,] in many societies he’d be [seen as] an innovator, a creator, a Richard Branson. His talent would be moulded, not crushed by some sort of media organisation”.

He continued: “The IFPI sat and watched. They used this site. Their own members used this site to promote their own music and now they’re crushing him. Maybe he grew too big for them, maybe they’ve taken a different marketing approach. I don’t know. But it was decided that this site should be taken down. All of us here are being manipulated to some sort of marketing strategy by the IFPI. If anybody’s acting dishonestly it’s them. He was co-operating. He was in communication with copyright owners. He was never told what he was doing would lead to some sort of criminal prosecution”.

Ellis chose not to comment on his court win, though many in the file-sharing community were very happy indeed. The BPI, unsurprisingly, were less pleased. They said on Friday afternoon: “This is a hugely disappointing verdict which is out of line with decisions made in similar cases around the world, such as The Pirate Bay. The defendant made nearly £200,000 by exploiting other people’s work without permission. The case shows that artists and music companies need better protection”.