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Software engineer accused of running one of world's biggest file-sharing websites acquitted of consp


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Software engineer accused of running one of world's biggest file-sharing websites acquitted of conspiracy to defraud



By Liz Thomas

Last updated at 4:11 AM on 16th January 2010




article-0-07C692DE000005DC-958_233x423.jpg Not guilty: Alan Ellis, pictured outside Teesside Crown Court, was acquitted of conspiracy to defraud


Record labels have tonight condemned the acquittal of a software engineer who ran one of the world's largest music-sharing websites from his flat.


26-year-old Alan Ellis said he only set up file-sharing service Oink to help make him 'more employable'.

But the website helped 200,000 users download more than 21 million music files for free - and it is believed to have made Mr Ellis more than £200,000 in the process.

He was the first person in the UK to be prosecuted for illegal file-sharing - but the acquittal raises serious doubts about the proposed Digital Economy Bill, currently being debated in Parliament.

Mr Ellis operated the site from his flat in Middlesbrough from 2004. It was closed down in a police raid in October 2007.

However the jury at Teesside Crown Court unanimously cleared Mr Ellis of conspiracy to defraud, prompting fears that Britons do not see illegal file-sharing as a serious issue.

Music records were quick to condemn the verdict. A spokesman for industry body the BPI said: ‘This is a hugely disappointing verdict.

‘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.’

When police raided his terraced home in October 2007, they found almost £200,000 in his accounts and the site had 200,000 members. He had ten separate bank accounts.







Oink members were required to make a donation to be able to invite friends to join the site, the court heard.

The site did not host any music itself, it indexed the files users had available on their computers for others to download.

Mr Ellis said he had received donations from members to pay for the server's rental and any surplus was intended to eventually buy a server.

Giving evidence, he said of his decision to create the website: ‘It was to further my skills - to better my skills for employability.’


article-0-07DFC4D7000005DC-985_468x426.jpg Popular: Alan Ellis's Oink website, which he ran from his Middlesbrough flat


Mr Ellis, who earns £35,000 a year as a software engineer, said there was no intention to defraud copyright holders and insisted he first set up the site to brush up his computer knowledge as a student at Teeside University.

The court heard that he told police officers: ‘All I do is really like Google, to really provide a connection between people. None of the music is on my website.’

But prosecutor Peter Makepeace told jurors: ‘This is not about prosecuting some poor minnow who has taped a record one night and circulated it to their friends. This is about large-scale, professional, clever, technical ripping off.’

Despite the not guilty verdict the Crown Prosecution Service defended the decision to prosecute.

A spokesman said: ‘We believe we were wholly right to bring the prosecution against Mr Ellis and that there was sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and that evidence was put before the jury.’

Cleveland Police, which investigated the case, said it had ‘abided by the jurors' decision’.


Mr Ellis solicitor Simon Rose said on behalf of his client: ‘Alan is, of course, very happy with the verdict.


'It has been an incredibly stressful two years following his televised arrest in 2007, which resulted not only in these proceedings but in him losing his employment.

‘He is looking forward to getting on with his life. Alan is an incredibly intelligent young man and in any society he would be treated as an innovator.’

Business secretary Lord Mandelson has put forward a ‘three strikes’ policy warning that the days of consequence-free file-sharing were over.

His planned legislation suggests ‘persistent’ illegal downloaders will faces written warnings, slowed broadband speeds and account suspension, while the worst offenders could face private prosecutions brought by film and music giants.

Last year a court in Sweden jailed the four men behind The Pirate Bay – the world’s most high-profile file-sharing website, in a landmark case.

EMI Music, Universal Music, Sony BMG and Warner Music took the group to court for ‘encouraging and facilitating the illegal downloading and sharing of copy-protected materials’ and won .

Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstrom and Peter Sunde were found guilty of breaking copyright law.

They were sentenced to a year in jail and were also ordered to pay £3 million in damages.

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