A judge in the northern city of Santander in Spain dismissed a case against an anonymous 48-year-old man who downloaded digital music from the net.
Judge Paz Aldecoa of No. 3 Penal Court ruled that under Spanish law a person who downloads music for personal use can not be punished or branded a criminal. He called it "a practised behaviour where the aim is not to gain wealth but to obtain private copies".
The ruling sent shockwaves through the music industry as the decision could be seen as allowing Spain's 16 million internet users to swap music without being punished. Spanish recording industry federation Promusicae says it will appeal against the decision.
The state prosecutor's office and two music distribution associations had sought a two year sentence against the man, who downloaded songs and then allegedly offered them on a CD through email and chat rooms. However, there was no direct proof he made money from selling the CDs.
Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopéz Aguilar says Spain is drafting a new law to abolish the existing right to private copies of material.
Due to different regulatory regimes in Europe, the proceedings against downloaders and file sharers differ greatly in each country. However, most European judges tend to take a harder stance on file sharing. Twenty two people in Finland were fined €427,000 last week for illegally sharing movies, music, games and software, while courts in Sweden also fined two men who had downloaded movies and music for personal use.
Over 100 students at Växjö University, southern Sweden, have been banned from using the institution's network in the past two years because they downloaded copyrighted material without permission in their apartments on the university campus. ®