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The Empire Strikes Back against Mininova

The Dutch Court of Utrecht ruled on Thursday (NZ time) that popular torrent-sharing site Mininova must remove all files from its servers that direct users to copyrighted works within three months.

If Mininova fails to comply, it faces a fine of up to 5 million Euros.

The judge was due to deliver the verdict on 15 July, but postponed releasing the decision until this week because of the holidays, enabling Dutch schoolkids to enjoy one last summer of free and easy illegal downloading.

Mininova had begun removing torrents linking to copyrighted material before the verdict was announced. The court, however, accepted copyright coalition group Stichting Brein’s assertion that Mininova’s actions, carried out in response to take-down notices were insufficient. Brein argued, and the court agreed, that the company should be pro-active in seeking out and removing links to illegal material from the site rather than waiting for complaints from copyright owners.

Following the verdict Mininova co-founder Erik Dubbelboer wrote on the site blog, “We are obviously not satisfied with this ruling … We are considering to appeal this judgment [sic].”

Coming on the back of the imprisonment in Sweden earlier this year of the four founders of torrent site The Pirate Bay (TPB), who were denied the right to appeal their sentence, it seems that European courts are getting much tougher on enforcing copyright laws.

Only a year ago there were three dominant torrent sites. Two have now lost legal battles and the third, TorrentSpy, has been closed down.

While the Mininova case has been handled with some decorum, the TPB case descended into farce at several points, not least when the verdict was leaked to the media a day before it was due to be delivered in the Stockholm court.

Having been informed by a journalist that he’d just been convicted, TPB founder Peter Sunde tweeted, “it used to be only movies, now even verdicts are out before the official release.”

Whether or not the verdicts against Mininova and TPB will do much to stem the flow of copyrighted material is hard to pick. BitTorrent sites, along with Limewire, Gnutella, E-Mule and many others, took over the reins after Napster was closed down. It’s hard to believe there won’t be future incarnations.

Many other torrent sites remain in operation, and several other means of file sharing exist, some of which are being exploited to share copyrighted material and profit from that sharing.

This week, two versions of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 featured in the list of the 20 most downloaded torrents. The Mininova verdict is a battle won for the copyright owners, but the war’s a long way from over.