MILAN, Italy — Italy's top criminal court has ruled that downloading music, movies and software over the Internet isn't a crime if profit wasn't the motivation, though analysts questioned Monday whether the ruling would have much effect on copyright laws.
The court's decision, issued earlier this month but reported over the weekend by the Italian media, overturns earlier convictions against two former Turin Polytechnic Institute students who set up in 1994 a peer-to-peer, file-sharing network that was shut down within months.
They were found guilty of illegal duplication and given a one-year sentence, which was reduced to three months on appeal, defense lawyer Carlo Blengino said.
The top criminal court in Rome threw out the convictions, ruling that it was not a crime to download computer files from such networks if there was no financial gain.
But analysts said violating a copyright, for example by breaking copy-protection technologies in place, remained illegal even if downloading the material had been decriminalized.
"I consider this sentence as a very intermediate step in clarifying what is legal and what is not legal," said analyst Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffe, the president of Assodigitale, a think-tank on digital technology. "This sentence marks an important step in that peer-to-peer per se is not an illegal activity. What stays and remains illegal is copyright infringement by cracking copyright files, and distributing it for commercial purposes."
That could cover services that charge access or connectivity fees, he said.
The Italian agency that monitors copyright issues, known by the acronym SIAE, said in a statement that the ruling did not bring any "revolutions" in terms of author's rights because the case predates current legislation calling for a fine for anyone who shares protected material over the Internet, even without financial gain.
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