A man who uploaded a single movie to The Pirate Bay kickstarting South Africa’s first online piracy case has been sentenced today. After striking a plea bargain with the state over what was unusually framed as a criminal rather than civil offense, the 29-year-old was handed an unprecedented five-year suspended jail sentence.
In a blaze of publicity mid December 2013 it was revealed that South Africa had netted its very first Internet pirate. SAFACT, the Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft, said it had caught a man uploading a high-profile movie to The Pirate Bay.
The case had unusual hallmarks from the start, not least since SAFACT admitted it had engaged the services of a “certified ethical hacker” to identify, profile and trace the uploader. Adding to the intrigue, SAFACT also refused to name the uploaded movie, although it was later revealed to be Four Corners, a local gangland film that was yet to be officially released.
Initially, the identity of the uploader was also shrouded in mystery but he was later revealed to be 29-year-old Majedien Norton. The IT engineer was reported to have uploaded the movie on November 21, 2013, although there is no sign of it now, which suggests that the father of two later deleted the file. Norton later admitted to buying a ‘screener’ copy of the movie off the streets and uploading it to Pirate Bay.
As in many countries, relatively minor and non-commercial instances of copyright infringement are dealt with via the civil courts in South Africa, but from fairly early on it was clear that this case would be different. The overall anti-piracy tone was that an example needed to be made and a precedent set for those tempted to make the same kind of mistake in future.
Today the case concluded in the Commercial Crimes Court in Cape Town and it seems that SAFACT largely achieved its aims. After being arrested under the Counterfeit Goods Act and facing a fine plus up to three years in jail, Norton came to an arrangement with the state, pleaded guilty, and was handed a five-year suspended jail sentence.
“It’s a huge relief for me and my wife,” Norton told local news outlet htxt.africa. “I’m just glad we can put this behind us now and move on.”
But while SAFACT and the rest of the anti-piracy lobby will be pleased with the harsh albeit suspended sentence, in a recent interview the director of Four Corners was philosophical over the piracy of his movie.
“I think the way people think now digitally they don’t see piracy as piracy any more. They see it as sharing. We will definitely not get as many people to the cinemas as we would have if the film were not pirated,” Ian Gabriel said.
“At the same time, there are people who have seen the film who would never have got to the cinema. I’m pleased the film is reaching those people because there’s a message of pride and self recognition and of choice for ordinary people that the film is delivering and its important that message be heard.”
And while SAFACT clearly believe that the threat of criminal punishments will help solve the piracy problem, Gabriel sees things from a different angle. Noting that movies cannot exist without money, the director says a more considered approach to piracy is required.
“I suggest in order to continue to enhance our quality of life, creative rights of origination need to be secured on some consensual level, probably not through aggressive policing, but rather through a common sense approach to the protection of creative endeavour for the benefit of all,” the director concludes.
SAFACT are yet to comment on the conclusion of the case.