UK Jury Clears Operator of Oink BitTorrent Search Engine

In a blow to the entertainment industry, a U.K. jury on Friday acquitted the operator of a popular BitTorrent search engine that enabled people to download music.

Alan Ellis, 26, was charged with conspiracy to defraud, according to one of his solicitors, Simon Rose of the firm Morgan Rose Solicitors.

Ellis, of Middlesbrough, England, ran a site called Oink.cd, a torrent search engine. Torrents are small data files that allow people to download digital content from other people's computers using the BitTorrent protocol and file-sharing programs such as uTorrent.

The site was invitation only. Users were expected to share their own files as well as download files or they could be banned.

The site was shut down in late 2007 after British police raided Ellis' residence and arrested him. Oink only stored torrent files and not actual songs. Ellis' server also acted as a tracker, which facilitates the download of files using torrents.

To prove its case for the charge, government prosecutors needed to show that Ellis dishonestly interfered with the rights of copyright holders, Rose said. Ellis' lawyers argued there was no conspiracy, and that Ellis operated the site in the open.

"He didn't hide in a back alley," said Rose, who helped prepare Ellis' defense. "He did it with what he believed were good intentions."

Ellis had collected about ₤20,000 (US$36,000) in donations from Oink users, which he planned to use to upgrade his servers for the service, Rose said.

A jury in Teesside Crown Court in Middlesbrough acquitted Ellis in less than two hours, Rose said.

It's hard to say if the case will set a precedent, as the availability of free music services such as Spotify has changed the music landscape since Oink was shut down, Rose said.

"I don't know whether it will really have any impact," Rose said.

Ellis could not be immediately reached. The Oink.cd domain was still active as of Friday, with a notice that Ellis had been acquitted.

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