When Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, one of the co-founders of the file-sharing website The Pirate Bay, failed to show up for an appeal court hearing in Sweden on Tuesday, his lawyer told the court his absence was due to his illness in Cambodia, according to reports in the Swedish media.
At his Phnom Penh apartment yesterday, the gaunt, formerly outspoken opponent of copyright restrictions said he did not wish to speak to the news media about his latest trial.
The Pirate Bay, one of the world’s largest file-sharing sites, facilitates the distribution of copyrighted material–particularly films, music and software–among its members.
Mr Warg, 25, along with the three co-founders of the popular website, was sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay $3.6 million in damages for promoting copyright infringement after being sued by such entertainment industry giants as Warner Brothers, Sony and Columbia Pictures last year.
The four Swedish men appealed their convictions and, in accordance with Swedish law, were released with their passports pending appeal. According to media reports, the presiding appellate judge told Mr Warg’s lawyer on Tuesday that if he failed to produce a doctor’s certificate testifying to Mr Warg’s illness by Oct 7, last year’s ruling against Mr Warg would stand.
In recent years, Mr Warg’s presence has been something of an open secret in Phnom Penh where he has worked with several tech-oriented companies.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that he’s a key asset to our company,” Kit Hargreaves, CEO of the Cambodian IT firm Arocore, said yesterday.
Mr Hargreaves said Mr Warg had no history of missing court appearances and, far from hiding in Cambodia, had made himself readily available to Swedish authorities in the past.
“He doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong,” said Mr Hargreaves.
Members of the Khmer440 web forum, on which Mr Warg has written under the name Agrippa since 2008, posted messages supporting both Mr Warg and his stance on copyright reform during last year’s trial.
“The basic issue is that the Internet is all about sharing information,” Mr Warg wrote in a post after last year’s trial. The Music and Film Industry Association of America is trying to “change the fundamentals of the Internet into the kind of one-way media feed the classic distribution forms are, and on the way to this infringe a lot of basic liberties.”
According to Peter Hogan, who owns Khmer440, Mr Warg has helped fixed “little techy problems” with his site in the past.
“He’s not really been on the radar for a while though,” said Mr Hogan yesterday.
(Additional Reporting by Reuters and The Guardian)