Gottfrid Svartholm Varg and Peter Sunde helped create The Pirate Bay in 2003 [AFP]

Four men behind a file-sharing website have been sentenced by a Swedish court to one year in jail and fined $3.6m for breaking copyright law.

But will this stop illegal download websites from continuing in the future, and what does it mean for the entertainment industry?

What is The Pirate Bay?

The Pirate Bay was set up in 2003 by Piratbyran (The Piracy Bureau), a Swedish group opposed to copyright regulation. In October 2004, the website separated from Piratbyran, and has since been run by individuals.

The website allows users to post and download films, music and computer games  for free.

The site, which has an estimated 22 million users, does not actually host any copyright-protected material, but provides links to where people can download content.

The Pirate Bay describes itself as "the world's largest Bit Torrent tracker", referring to the type of technology people use to download content.

What is Bit Torrent?

Swedish police confiscated a Pirate Bay server in a raid in 2008 [EPA]

Bit Torrent works by placing what one person is downloading as available for upload by another user.

This means that when a number of users are downloading the same content, they are also uploading the content to each other.

This allows users to transfer parts of a large file from several different users, with the more people file-sharing increasing the speed of downloading.

The technology can be used to share files legally, but often it is used to download copyright-protected material.

The Pirate Bay works by allowing users to search or browse torrent files posted on the internet.

What does The Pirate Bay verdict mean for other file-sharing sites and internet users?

Sweden has introduced tougher laws for file-sharing in the last month, making it easier to prosecute those breaching copyright law.

Under the law it requires internet service providers (ISPs) to reveal the internet protocol (IP) addresses of suspected violators to copyright owners.

France also plans to resurrect a failed bill that would cut off internet connections of people who illegally download music and films.

But there is doubt in the industry that this law and the verdict handed down by the Stockholm district court will put an end to other file-sharing sites or deter others from developing them.

Napster, a music file-sharing website, was prosecuted nearly 10 years ago, but there has been no evidence of illegal downloading abating.

Mark Mulligan, a music analyst from Forrester, a research firm, said: "Every time you get rid of one, another bigger one pops up. Napster went, and then up came a whole host of others.

"The problem of file-sharing just keeps growing year on year, and it's increasingly difficult for the industry to do anything about it."

Dan Cryan, a senior analyst at Screen Digest, a media research company, said the lack of international copyright law meant websites dedicated to illegal downloads could simply move on to a new country if legislation tightened where they operated.

There is also concern that governments clamping down on internet users could result in an intrusion on civil liberties. 

The European Parliament last month adopted a nonbinding resolution that defines internet access as an untouchable "fundamental freedom".

How is the future of the entertainment industry likely to be affected by this kind of technology?

The Pirate Bay case appears to be a victory for entertainment companies suffering losses from illegal downloads.

"The music vendors have simply lost out because they didn't have technologists"

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering, Cambridge University

But file-sharing continues to pose a threat to creative industries.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry reported earlier this year that about 95 per cent of music downloaded in 2008 was illegal.

John Kennedy, the head of the federation, said illegal file-sharing had cost the recording industry billions of dollars in lost revenue.

But he added that Friday's verdict was good news for anyone "who is making a living or a business from creative activity and who needs to know their rights will be protected by law".

Is this the death of the music industry?

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, believes the music industry will have to find a new business model to stay alive.

"These are the death throes of an obsolete industry", he said, adding that there will be big changes in the market as technology progresses.

"Music is no longer marketed in the way it used to be. It's distributed through MP3s and the iTunes store. The music vendors have simply lost out because they didn't have technologists."

But he said this should not hurt those who want to play music, as cheaper technology allows bands to record their own music for very little cost.

He added that musicians have traditionally made more money from performances than from sales, and this gap will continue to widen.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies