Jail sentence for software 'pirate'

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The Independent Online
A businessman, who ran a pirate international computer software library worth almost half a million pounds, has been jailed for two years and three months in the first trading standards prosecution for a "bulletin board" offence.

A court heard that among the information members could access was a "terrorist's guide" to making bombs. Christopher Lewis, 46, of Whiston, Merseyside, pleaded guilty to 10 specimen charges of distributing copyright infringing articles over a period of three months.

Mr Neil Flewitt, prosecuting, told Liverpool Crown Court yesterday that Lewis operated a computer bulletin board - a forerunner of the Internet - from a computer at his former home in Huyton, Merseyside.

He ran the system, known to its 283 members as "The Pool", under the name "Skavenger". It was one of 50 such illegal libraries running in the UK. Members swapped computer games, business programs and utility software. During its three- month operation, 934 items were downloaded, and 592 uploaded, of which 95 per cent were illegal.

The games on the board had a total value of almost pounds 40,000. In addition, 14 CD-ROMs each contained between 100 and 300 software items with a total value of up to pounds 420,000, said Mr Flewitt. A routine visit by trading standards officers to a shop, Console Corner, in Huyton, in October 1993 uncovered a document headed "Skavenger's Latest", listing files available.

A membership questionnaire asked whether people had police or legal connections.

Mr Ian Harris, defending, said Lewis used the board in order to obtain information about computer software and enhance his knowledge. Although he had done so illegally, he had not made any profit. Since the offences, he had found a well-paid job with a Warrington computer company.

Trading standards officers revealed that pornographic material and advice on how to access satellite television was also available on the bulletin.