Norway's supreme court ruled Thursday that a student whose Napster.no homepage was linked to free Internet music files must compensate the music industry.
The country's highest court upheld a lower court ruling that ordered the student to pay $15,900 in compensation. The published version of the court ruling withheld the student's name.
The student was learning computer engineering in the southern Norway town of Lillehammer when he set up the Napster.no site as part of a school project in 2001. His site had nothing do with the widely known Napster.com music site in the United States.
The Napster.no site provided links to music files in the MP3 format that could be downloaded for free. The site was online between August and November 2001, and provided links to about 170 free music files on servers outside Norway, the ruling said.
The music industry group Tono, Sony Music Entertainment Norway AS, Universal Music AS and others, saw the case as an important test of principle, and filed a legal complaint for copyright violations.
A lower court found for the music industry, while on appeal the Lagmannsetten court in Oslo cleared the student, saying any copyright violation occurred when others posted the music and not when he provided links to it.
In a summary of its ruling, the supreme court said the music was clearly published in violation of copyright law.
"The supreme court decided the case based on responsibility for abetting (an illegal act)," the summary said.
It said the student violated the law by showing people where to find the illegal music and that his actions "were premeditated and worthy of criticism."
Cato Stroem, managing director of Tono, said the industry was happy with the ruling, because it shows that music piracy won't be accepted and that copyright laws apply even on the Internet.
"The ruling will help build confidence in the Internet as a medium for the legal distribution of music," he said.