The trial of the Alan Ellis, one of the main people behind the infamous ‘Oink’ Peer-2-Peer invite only file swapping site, has ended at Teeside Crown Court. The file-sharing community had just under 200,000 users when it was closed down in 2007, who between them had downloaded some 21 million illegal songs. Six men were arrested in raids in the UK and Amsterdam, four of whom pleaded guilty to copyright infringement in late 2008, receiving community service and fines for their crimes. Two cases remained and the first heard was against Ellis, aged 26, who founded the community. He was charged with conspiracy to defraud. Ellis had denied liability for copyright infringement, using the (classic) defence that the Oink website and server did not, in themselves, host any unlicensed content, saying that it merely provided a forum through which others could share music.
As the case centered on an accusation of fraud, and prosecutors also had to prove Ellis made a profit and prosecutors moved to show the amount of money made by Ellis by operating the venture. It appeared from evidence given that there wasn't a subscription fee as such for using Oink, but users were encouraged to make donations, and it's alleged that a donation was compulsory whenever someone wanted to invite a friend to join the community.
Prosecutors said Ellis had amassed $300,000 in donations in his PayPal account by the time site was shut down and was receiving about $18,000 each month in ‘donations’ – and that he had £20,000 in his bank accounts. Ellis insisted that the monies were to pay server costs – and possibly buy a new server - and that he, unlike the Oink’s actual users, wasn’t personally guilty of infringement, because he didn't personally host or share any infringing content. By way of an aside, in the US in MGM v Grokster a charge of what was in effect 'authorising infringement' was successfully brought and in Sweden the four men behind The Pirate Bay were found guilty of copyright infringement. However, Ellis painted a picture of Oink as geeky student programming project that got out of control. He told the court how he created the website while studying at Teesside University and in a short period afterwards, mainly because he felt the programming skills he'd been taught were outdated and that he should endeavour to teach himself some up to date web-based programming saying "I didn't have an intention, I was furthering my skills as a programmer, as a software engineer".
Well, we can report the verdict - and in this case Mr Elllis has been found NOT GUILTY. He left court without speaking to reporters.