By MATTIAS KAREN, Associated Press Writer
Unless Swedes have suddenly changed their habits, about one in 10
became a criminal on Friday when a ban on sharing copyrighted music
and movies over the Internet took effect at midnight.
Swedes are among the most prolific file-sharers in the world. Industry
groups estimate that about 10 percent of Sweden's 9 million residents
freely swap music, games and movies on their computers, making the
Scandinavian country one of the world's biggest copyright violators.
The new law, which follows a European Union directive, took effect a
day after the U.S. government announced an 11-nation crackdown on
Internet piracy organizations responsible for stealing copies of the
latest "Star Wars" film and other movies, games and software programs.
The Swedish ban also comes just days after the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled that the entertainment industry can file piracy lawsuits against
technology companies caught encouraging customers to download
copyrighted material for free over the Internet.
Globally, the movie industry alone is estimated to be losing $3.5
billion to $5.4 billion a year to Internet piracy.
Many industry experts say that Swedes -- normally law-abiding, but
very tech-savvy -- have grown so lax about copyright infringement that
any regulation is likely to be useless.
"A law in itself changes nothing," said Henrik Ponten, a spokesman for
Antipiratbyran, a Swedish lobbying group waging a fierce campaign
against the file-sharers. "There is nothing that indicates that
(file-sharers) would change their behavior."
Previously, it had only been illegal in Sweden to make pirated
material available online for others to download via so-called
While such behavior is rampant here, no one has been convicted of
doing it. However, a court is expected to make the first ruling in
such a case later this year. A 27-year-old man was charged in March
with making a Swedish movie available for download from his home
If convicted, he could face two years in prison. But if he is merely
fined, it will likely serve as a green light for small-time pirates,
as police and prosecutors normally won't spend resources on crimes
that only warrant a fine.
And while most political parties backed the new law, Justice Minister
Thomas Bodstrom has signaled that chasing downloaders will still not
be a priority for police, unless the volume is massive.
"It would be just as unreasonable to dedicate large police resources
to investigate single cases of downloading as it would be to
prioritize shoplifting cases ahead of robberies," Bodstrom wrote in an
op-ed article shortly before the law was passed.
Antipiratbyran and similar organizations in other countries have been
tracking file-sharers online and sent out warning letters to people
who make illegal material available from their computers.
Seven of every 1,000 Swedes has received such a letter, for a total of
more than 60,000. That's a much higher per capita rate than in any
other country. The average is about two per thousand, Ponten said.
"Sweden really is a paradise for pirates," he said. "We're getting
very weak signals from society that copyright should be valid on the
While the Antipiratbyran's aggressive pursuit of file-sharers has been
a deterrent to some, it also has fueled a public backlash, as many see
the group's warning letters as harassment. Hackers attacked the
agency's Web site in March. It's still down.
More than 4,000 people reported Antipiratbyran to the Swedish Data
Inspection Board, claiming the agency misused personal information by
collecting IP addresses and online aliases. The inspection board
agreed, and the lobbying group has stopped sending out warning letters
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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