A man accused of running a sophisticated music piracy website used by more than 200,000 members was acquitted of conspiracy to defraud today. Alan Ellis, 26, was accused of making hundreds of thousands of pounds from the Oink website, which he ran alone from his own bedroom. But a jury at Teesside Crown Court unanimously cleared the software engineer of the charge. Mr Ellis, from Middlesbrough, smiled as the jury foreman returned the not guilty verdict.
During the trial, Mr Ellis had told the jury that he set up Oink in his home in an effort to brush up on his computing skills while a student at Teesside University. He told the court that he had set up the website “to further my skills. To better my skills for employability”. When police raided his terraced house in October 2007, they found almost $300,000 in his accounts.
Peter Makepeace, for the prosecution, said: “At the time this website was taken down, there were approximately 200,000 active members. “Those users had access to about 200,000 audio files. “This site had facilitated a staggering 21 million downloads of those available files.”
He added: “This is not about prosecuting some poor minnow who has taped a record one night and circulated it to their friends. “This is about large scale, professional, clever, technical ripping off.” But Mr Ellis said the money was used to pay for the rental of the computers that ran the website, and that any “surplus” was intended to eventually purchase a server.
He added that the website was developed from a free template, which included with it a “Torrent” file-sharing facility — a popular method used by some to download music illegally. The court heard that users on the site were required to make a donation to be able to invite friends to join the site.
The site did not hold music itself, but it had allowed members to find other people on the web who were prepared to share files with others, allowing people to get hold of music for free. Mr Ellis, who was born in Leeds and grew up in south Manchester, studying A levels in Cheadle, argued that there was no intention to defraud copyright holders. He had a full-time job as a software engineer and said running the site was a hobby.
The prosecution said he told police officers: “All I do is really like Google, to really provide a connection between people. None of the music is on my website.” The prosecution said that when interviewed by police, Mr Ellis refused to answer questions about money, and said it was “out of my hands” what his site’s members did. The prosecution argued that none of the cash made by way of donations was going to the music industry. “Every penny was going to Mr Ellis,” Mr Makepeace said.
“He hadn’t sung a note, he hadn’t played an instrument, he hadn’t produced anything. “The money was not going to the people it rightly belonged to, it was going to Mr Ellis.”. Mr Ellis declined to answer questions on leaving court