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A movie pirate was sentenced in a criminal case intended to send a warning message

Photo by Emiliano Bar / Unsplash

Whether one chooses to illegally download content or to purchase it legally is a matter of personal preference that can be influenced by a variety of factors.

It's easy for the balance to tip in either direction depending on factors like access to content, financial resources, impatience with delays, and a desire for immediate gratification versus delayed gratification.

Anti-piracy groups try to tip the scales in favor of rightsholders by highlighting the benefits of legal consumption and elevating public perception of risk. One option is to display the repercussions of piracy in real life.

Until the anti-piracy group Rights Alliance teamed up with the police to shut them down, torrent sites offering Danish content were popular in Denmark for obvious reasons.

A crystal clear example of the potential risks was provided when key DanishBits players were arrested, convicted, and later sent to prison. It wasn't the right message to send as a deterrent to casual BitTorrent users.

Pursuing elite players would have only contributed to the myth that safety is reserved for the very best of the best. However, Rights Alliance wasn't going to forget about the regulars who use torrent sites, and they were getting ready to send them a personalized message.

On Thursday, a former user of DanishBits appeared in court after pleading guilty to distributing about 40 movies via the site. As was previously reported, aside from his membership, he had no other ties to the site and did not identify with any subset of uploaders. Simply put, he was a typical user.

After hiring a specialized company to gather tracking evidence, Rights Alliance built a case against the DanishBits user in the hopes that it would have widespread public support. The case was accepted by the police for criminal prosecution rather than being given to a law firm for civil action.

The man was given a 30-day suspended sentence and ordered to pay DKK 2,840 (US$380) in damages by the Court of Frederiksberg yesterday. This was the exact amount sought by Rights Alliance on behalf of its rightsholder partners. Two computers and associated storage devices were also subject to the court's confiscation order.

If you're familiar with the extreme damage awards that can be handed down in civil cases in the United States, $380 might seem like a pittance. In reality, however, it represents a real financial penalty for a real criminal conviction, which Rights Alliance (RA) believes can provide substantial support for credible anti-piracy messaging.

We asked Maria Fredenslund, CEO of Rights Alliance, if the conditional prison sentence sent the right kind of message given the significance of the prosecution. Was it too harsh, just right, or somewhere in between?

We agree with the prosecution that a prison sentence serves as a deterrent, and that was their goal all along," Fredenslund says.

"Not least of all because the compensation claim is also taken into account, and our experience with the' environment' shows that it also means a lot for the preventive effect," they wrote.

Clearly, Rights Alliance wants the conviction to be the most important consideration for consumers deciding whether to pirate content or pay for it. In criminal cases, Maria Fredenslund thinks the balance could be tipped in favor of legal content if police intervention and compensation claims were adjudicated together.

On the other hand, the chief executive officer of Rights Alliance thinks that the case marks a watershed moment in the struggle against piracy because of the involvement of the police.

It's gotten to the point where the police have to deal with the theft of movies, TV shows, and other content. Fredenslund sums up, "It is a necessity, and so it is also a milestone in the work to ensure good conditions in the digital area.