Free music site creator cleared in fraud case

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The Independent Tech

A man accused of running one of the world's largest music sharing websites was today acquitted of conspiracy to defraud.



Alan Ellis, 26, was accused of making hundreds of thousands of pounds from the Oink website, which he ran from his own bedroom.

However, a jury at Teesside Crown Court unanimously cleared the software engineer of the single charge.

Mr Ellis, of Grange Road, Middlesbrough, smiled as the jury foreman returned the not guilty verdict.

He declined to speak as he left the court.



Mr Ellis, a £35,000 a year software engineer, said he set up Oink in his bedroom to brush up on his computing skills while a student at Teesside University.



When police raided his terraced home in October 2007, they found almost 300,000 dollars in his accounts and the site had 200,000 members, who had downloaded 21 million files.



Mr Ellis said the donations were to pay for the server's rental and any "surplus" was intended to eventually buy a server.



He agreed he had about 10 bank accounts with about £20,000 in savings when police raided the house he shared in Middlesbrough.



Giving evidence, he explained why he set up the website.



"It was to further my skills. To better my skills for employability," he said.



Mr Ellis said the website was developed from a free template, which had a Torrent file-sharing facility included in it.



It allowed members to find other people on the web who were prepared to share files - allowing users to get hold of music for free.



Users were required to make a donation to be able to invite friends to join the site, the court heard.



Oink did not host any music itself, it indexed the files users had available on their computers for others to download.



Mr Ellis, who was born in Leeds and grew up in south Manchester, studying A-levels in Cheadle, said there was no intention to defraud copyright holders.



He had a full-time job as a software engineer and said administering the site was just a hobby.



Opening the case for the prosecution, Peter Makepeace told jurors: "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."



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."



Chief Superintendent Mark Braithwaite, head of crime operations for Cleveland Police, said: "This has been a fair investigation.



"The jury has been presented with all the evidence and we abide by their decision."



The Crown Prosecution Service defended the decision to prosecute Mr Ellis.



"We believe we were wholly right to bring the prosecution against Mr Ellis and that there was sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and that evidence was put before the jury," a spokesman said.

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