A Hong Kong man, believed to be the first person convicted of downloading pirated movies using BitTorrent file-sharing technology, lost his appeal on Friday in the territory's highest court.
Chan Nai-ming, who used the alias "Big Crook" on the peer-to-peer BitTorrent network, was found guilty in October 2005 of copyright infringement and attempting to distribute three Hollywood movies using the popular file-sharing software.
While people have used BitTorrent technology for years to download movies undetected, Chan was caught red-handed by a Hong Kong Customs officer in January 2005.
The three movies Chan was convicted of pirating were Daredevil, Miss Congeniality and Red Planet in what the Hong Kong government has called the first conviction of its kind in the world.
"He plainly succeeded in distributing copies of the films in question," the five-member Court of Final Appeal said on Friday in its judgment. "The appeal must accordingly be dismissed."
Chan had been sentenced to three months imprisonment, and had served several weeks in prison before the appeal of his conviction.
The defense argued that Chan merely enabled BitTorrent users "to make copies of their own" of movies stored on his hard disk, rather than trying to "transfer" any copy in his possession, according to the judgment.
But the court rejected that argument, saying Chan "did create and have possession of such a copy (transiently or otherwise) for distribution to the downloading swarm."
Chan had posted a message inviting BitTorrent users to download a movie on an Internet movie forum called "bt.movie.hk" using his "Big Crook" alias.
The Hong Kong government welcomed the judgment, saying it clarified the law regarding Internet piracy.
"This judgment has confirmed that it commits a crime and violates copyright laws for the act of using (BitTorrent) software to upload and distribute," said customs official Tam Yiu-keung in a written statement.
He added the judgment would have a deterrent effect, a view endorsed by industry watchdogs such as the Hong Kong branch of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.
"Those uploaders and downloaders who wish to rely on the gray areas of the law will have no more excuses," said Ricky Fung, the body's chief executive officer.
The BitTorrent system is designed to distribute large amounts of data such as movies by allowing individual computers to share the material they have downloaded from a source.
Hong Kong's Commerce Secretary earlier said the posting of copyrighted materials in Hong Kong using BitTorrent had dropped 80 percent within a year of Chan's arrest in 2005.