The former founder of file-sharing site OiNK was last week found not guilty of “conspiracy to defraud” by the Teesside Crown Court. Alan Ellis, aged 26, was the defendant in the UK’s first file sharing trial. He set up Oink 2004 as a BitTorrent (P2P) file sharing tracker website that hosted links to copyright content such as music and films.
OiNK was shut down in 2007 following a two year investigation by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), a court case followed. It’s estimated that the website aided in the download of 21 million music files. In the end it proved too difficult for Rights Holders to win a criminal case against a P2P torrent links website, partly because such activity is still considered to be a civil matter and P2P sites do not actually host any illegal content themselves. Alan Ellis, who made £35k per year from OiNK, was unanimously found not guilty by the jury of 12.
The site was invite-only and members were asked to make donations in order to get invites to hand out to their friends.
The prosecution argued that commercial gain was the sole purpose of the operation and that the police found more than $300,000 in Eliis’ PayPal account set up to receive the donations and that he made over $18,000 a month from them.
Ellis admitted he had £20,000 spread over ten bank accounts when the police came after him. This was clear evidence that Ellis’ intentions were to profit from the work of others, the prosecution said.
In his defense, Ellis said he created the site to hone his coding skills in light of future employment opportunities. He said that the site had been originally built on a template that had a BitTorrent component.
The greatest argument, though, was that the site itself didn’t host any unlawful material and the users had the only responsibility on what they shared with others and what they downloaded.
The jury agreed and voted unanimously to have him freed of all charges.
The case set a precedent but also highlights the inherent problems with tackling online piracy among customers of UK broadband ISPs.