Two young men in UK have been sentenced to jail for their role in setting up and operating an illegal music sharing site Dancing Jesus, that was in operation between 2006 and 2011. Kane Robinson, 26, the site’s owner and creator, was sentenced to 32 months in prison and 22-year-old Richard Graham, one of the forum’s top uploaders, was given a sentence of 21 months.
Graham, who was found to have uploaded 8000 songs to the site, around two-thirds of which were prerelease, had earlier pleaded not guilty but changed his plea to guilty when the evidence was presented.
According to Ars Technica, in the UK, private copyright investigations and industry-funded prosecutions can lead to criminal prosecutions and result in jail time. These sentences are the harshest ever handed down in a case involving UK-based music file-sharers.
The prosecution told the court that between 2006 and 2011 Dancing Jesus had facilitated users to post links to 250,000 individual tracks, some before their official release date. The site had more than 70 million user visits during its time online.
“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message to the operators and users of illegal music sites that online piracy is a criminal activity that will not be tolerated by law enforcement in the UK or overseas,” director of the British Phonographic Society’s Copyright Protection Unit, David Wood, said.
“Piracy – particularly pre-release – can make or break an artist’s career, and can determine whether a record label is able to invest in that crucial second or third album,” he added. “Speaking as a music fan, it just doesn’t make sense to help criminals when you can support artists.”
Dancing Jesus was taken offline in 2011, following an investigation carried out by the BPI, the City of London police and the Intellectual Property Office with assistance from the US Department of Homeland Security, who seized the site’s Dallas-based servers in 2011. The two men were then arrested by City of London Police.
The prosecution argued that the site could have cost the industry more than £240m, if half of its users downloaded a whole album for free. They also emphasised that much of the music distributed on Dancing Jesus, were tracks not yet officially released. Judge Deborah Sherwin reportedly said it would be easy to consider file sharing a victimless crime but said that piracy limited the ability of the industry to promote and fund new artists.
Speaking to Torrent Freak after his guilty plea, Graham said their site was never a commercial operation. “I am still amazed by the fact that so much time and money was expended [prosecuting] a small website of music lovers who spent way more on music, gigs etc than the average person. I myself spent thousands,” he said.
“It’s also clear that no money was made from any activity, which also makes me wonder. People make thousands a week from piracy, why don’t they go for them? I believe they were just looking for an easy win after all their high-profile losses, and unfortunately they chose me.”
Cyber crime specialist solicitor David Cook, who actually provided expert opinion to the defence in the case, added to Torrent Freak that he finds the harsh sentences “troubling” and questions how the prosecution obtained their “self-serving” estimated figures of loss to the music industry.
Still, head of the Intellectual Property Office Intelligence Hub, said this case demonstrated they are committed to supporting rights holders in enforcing IP rights. “This case demonstrates how successful intelligence and enforcement agencies working in partnership can be in stopping IP infringement.”