updated 11/30/2004 12:57:01 PM ET 2004-11-30T17:57:01

A man arrested last year on copyright charges for disseminating films on the Internet was given a three-year suspended sentence Tuesday — averting a jail term in one of the first crackdowns on file-sharing in Japan.

Yoshihiro Inoue, 42, was found guilty of violating copyright law Tuesday in Kyoto District Court, a court official said on condition of anonymity.

Kyodo News quoted presiding judge Yasuhide Narazaki as saying Inoue disregarded the efforts of copyright-holders, and his crime was a serious offense against the protection of intellectual property.

Inoue was arrested in November last year on suspicion he placed Hollywood movies on the Internet to allow swapping of video files.

Isamu Kaneko, who developed the free file-sharing software called Winny, is also on trial in the same court. His verdict date has not been set.

Kaneko, an instructor at the prestigious University of Tokyo, was arrested in May on charges of violating copyright laws. He was also accused of helping Inoue disseminate material on the Internet with Winny.

Kaneko was the first file-sharing software developer arrested in Japan.

His defense team says there are no laws against developing file-sharing software. They say arresting someone for designing software is a serious threat to personal liberty, and is making developers in Japan nervous that innovations may be declared illegal.

Kaneko's plight has drawn supporters through blogs, or Internet journals, who have donated money to his defense fund. Kaneko was released on bail in June on a 5 million yen ($49,000) bond.

Winny has become a major headache for digital content providers in Japan, attracting people by its claim that it protects users' identities. The program allows users to trade files without revealing their Internet Protocol address — the online equivalent of a phone number.

Violating copyright laws can bring up to three years in prison or a maximum fine of 3 million yen ($29,000).

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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