How Much Should Pirates Be Punished?

The IPKat reports on the legal deliberations surrounding the punishment of four Swedish copyright pirates who distributed movies over the internet. Two of the defendants have appealed to the Swedish Supreme Court on the grounds that the damages awarded are unreasonably high, relative to their incomes.

The original trial of the four pirates concluded with the District Court giving them prison sentences of between 6 and 10 months. The court also ordered the pirates to pay around SEK1mn (USD110k) damages to the claimants. The defendants appealed the case to the Court of Appeal, which found they had committed between 45 and 118 infringements of copyright law. However, the court considered the young age of the defendants and other mitigating factors before deciding that a prison sentence was not justified. The Court of Appeal increased the damages to SEK4mn (USD440k) instead, as based on the cost of a hypothetical license to distribute the pirated works.

There will be plenty of sympathy for businesses who say damages should be punitive in order to discourage piracy. On the other hand, many of those businesses are too cheap to spend thousands on fixing the systematic leakages that will subsequently cost them millions in lost revenues. The retail cost of a movie is not the same as the amount people are willing to pay. There is evidence that pirates spend as much on copyrighted content as other customers, and the implication is that reducing piracy to zero would not lead to greatly increased revenues for rightsholders. Sweden has been a hotbed of internet piracy, so it will be interesting to see how their Supreme Court formulates principles on what is a fair punishment in cases like these.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.