It might have become the norm to illegally download television shows and the latest blockbuster movies on the Internet the day they are released, but all that is about to change with the news that a Hong Kong man has been convicted for illegally distributing movies over the Internet using BitTorrent (BT) file sharing technology.
In what is believed to be the world's first criminal piracy case involving BT software, Nai-Ming Chan has been found guilty of copyright infringement for putting three Hollywood movies onto the Internet without authorisation by using the popular BT peer-to-peer file-sharing program, a judiciary spokeswoman said.
The Hong Kong customs and excise department said the unemployed 38-year-old Chan, who was arrested in January, is the first person in the world to be charged with violating copyright laws through the use of BT technology.
Chan was released on bail of 5,000 hkd and a sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Nov 7.
BT is a popular computer program, which cuts the time needed to download files by breaking them into small packets that can be downloaded via a number of sources.
Last week the body that represents the film industry announced that it too was taking legal action against six websites posing as legitimate film and music download services.
It accused the services of charging to re-direct people to file-sharing sites where they can access illegal material.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) filed the suits in New York state courts. "We won't tolerate this scam premised on the illegal swapping of valuable movie content", said the MPAA.
The sites charge fees ranging from $20 for a 3-month trial to $40 for life. Peer-to-peer networks are usually free to use.
The MPAA has taken aim at sites which let people share content via file-sharing and BitTorrent networks since last year.
In that decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that file-sharing networks could be liable if they encouraged users to copy movies, music and other protected works without permission.
Supporters of the technology say people want to use such networks to share content.
In other file sharing news, German media giant Bertelsmann is to launch a peer-to-peer network service to offer legal downloads of music and movies.
The service, dubbed Gnab, or 'bang' in reverse, is to go live in Germany by the end of this year, with an eventual rollout to other countries through 2006 and beyond, the company said.
Bertelsmann has prior experience with P2P networking, having invested in Napster, a move which foundered on lawsuits over copyright.
Gnab uses a decentralised P2P network to offer downloads whose original content is hosted on centralised servers.
The service will be licensed to partners which can use it to sell their own downloads, meaning that consumers only will get to use it if they go through a particular partner or company.