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Friday, April 25, 2014

File-Sharer Sentenced to 5 Years in South Africa

An individual was sentenced in South Africa’s first Internet piracy case for uploading a movie to TPB. The 29-year-old man was handed an unprecedented 5-year suspended sentence. Back in December 2013, the Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft claimed it had caught an individual uploading a high-profile movie to the torrent tracker.

This landmark case had unusual hallmarks from the very beginning. For example, SAFACT admitted it had engaged the services of a “certified ethical hacker” to identify and catch the file-sharer. In addition, the outfit refused to name the uploaded video, though it was later revealed to be Four Corners, a local gangland movie prior to its official release.

Likewise, the identity of the file-sharer was also kept secret, but he was later revealed to be 29-year-old IT engineer named Majedien Norton. He was reported to have uploaded the movie in November, though it can’t be found online at the moment – apparently, the father of two later removed the file. The engineer admitted to buying a “screener” copy of the film off the streets and uploading it to The Pirate Bay.

Relatively minor and non-commercial cases of copyright violation are normally dealt with through the civil courts in South Africa. However, it was clear from the beginning that this case would be different. Anti-piracy outfit wanted an example to be made and a precedent set for the others who tempted to infringe.

Now the ruling on the case was delivered in the Commercial Crimes Court in Cape Town, and it looks like SAFACT largely achieved its aims. Norton was arrested under the Counterfeit Goods Act and faced a fine plus up to 3 years in jail. However, he managed to come to an arrangement with the state and pleaded guilty. As a result, he got a 5-year suspended jail sentence.

The anti-piracy outfits celebrate the victory, while the Four Corners creators see things from a different angle. SAFACT clearly believes that the threat of criminal punishments is sure to help solve the copyright infringement problem, but the moviemakers point out that movies can’t exist without money, but a more considered approach to piracy is required: not via aggressive policing, but rather via a common sense approach to the protection of creative works.

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