Teenager wins landmark music piracy case
- Mar 30, 2010
A teenager who was charged in 2007 with illegally distributing copyrighted material after sharing three albums and one single on a popular file sharing website, has had his case dropped by the CPS just weeks before his trial was due to begin at Middlesbrough Crown Court.
Matthew Wyatt, of Stamford, Lincolnshire, was 17 when he was arrested by Cleveland Police. Six people, including police officers, Trading Standards employees and members of both the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) entered the Wyatt family home on 10 September 2007 and seized more than 160 items.
Matthew’s defence team said this move was at odds with the ‘three strikes’ rule proposed in the controversial Digital Economy Bill passed by the House of Lords less than two weeks ago.
Matthew went on to be charged with distributing copyrighted material to such an extent as to prejudicially affect the copyright holder, a criminal offence that carries a maximum 10-year custodial sentence. However, Matthew was not alleged to have been the original uploader of the music; rather, he was accused of finding four music files on one publicly accessible music site and moving them to North East-based OiNK, a members-only BitTorrent tracker site.
David Cook of Burrows Bussin Solicitors, who represented Matthew, said: “At no time during the course of this prosecution did the CPS actually produce any evidence that the material in question was in fact copyrighted. In a world where kudos can be gained through early leaks, and fake tracks consisting of live versions, white noise and loops are rife, we believed that this was a dangerous gap in the evidence. We also found it extraordinary that the copyright holder was never asked to identify the tracks as being theirs.
“The computer experts that the CPS had instructed explained that the uploaded materials contained a digital watermark allowing such leaks to be traced back to the source. But an examination of the watermark and a trace were never carried out, presumably because the CPS and IFPI did not care who the source of the leak and the prejudice to the copyright holder actually was.
“In fact, the likely source of the material would be a band insider, record company employee or a music critic. But rather than alienate themselves from these useful allies, the IFPI, which represents the interests of the four major record companies, chose instead to make a scapegoat of a 17-year-old boy.”
David Cook believed from the outset that the criminal offence with which Matthew was charged was ill-suited to the movement of files across a BitTorrent network. In fact, there was a civil ‘making available’ offence that would have better suited the allegation.
David Cook said: “Case law definitively states that copyright offences arising out of BitTorrent should be put before a civil judge. In this case, there appeared a simple reason behind the decision to charge with a criminal act – the IFPI wanted to make an example of Matthew Wyatt. We had asked the CPS to comment on this issue, but it dropped the case prior to the Court hearing.”
This was the final episode in the ongoing OiNK trial, which earlier this year saw Alan Ellis, the administrator of the site, acquitted of conspiracy to defraud.
Matthew Wyatt’s trial had been due to be heard at Middlesbrough Crown Court in June, but was this week dropped by the CPS.
Matthew Wyatt said: “I am delighted that the CPS has finally decided to end this misguided and disproportionate prosecution. The last two and a half years have been stressful and disruptive for my family and for me. I look forward to getting on with my undergraduate studies and my future now this burden has been lifted.”
Burrows Bussin’s David Cook continued: “It was clear throughout this case that Matthew Wyatt was the victim of a cynical attempt by the record industry to legitimise its heavy-handed tactics and dubious methods by using police resources and the public purse. Cleveland Police and the Crown Prosecution Service allowed themselves to be manipulated throughout this investigation and were content to rubber stamp reports commissioned by private bodies rather than scrutinise the merits of the case.
“The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry and British Phonographic Industry used their influence to gain entry to Matthew Wyatt’s family home, gather evidence and dictate the direction of inquiries. Government ministers have categorically stated they do not want to see teenagers arrested in their bedrooms for file-sharing. This case makes clear such assurances are hollow. This prosecution was not only incompetently handled, it has never been in the public interest and the CPS has been forced to admit that today.”