A court ruling previously hailed as a victory for the free downloading of copyright material from the internet actually leaves Italian law unchanged, claimed a spokesman for the Italian Music Industry Federation (FIMI) on Tuesday.

Earlier this month the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court, quashed a three month and ten day prison sentence that had been meted out to two students by the Turin Court of Appeal for illegally exchanging copyright-protected files. The Turin Polytechnic students were acquitted of breaking the law because the exchange of files had not been carried out for profit, Italian newspapers reported over the weekend.

The students' alleged offence occurred in 1999 and a number of laws have been passed since, including one that implements the European Union’s 2003 copyright directive, which outlaws using the internet to acquire copyright material for free, the FIMI spokesman pointed out.

"The significance of the ruling was wrongly reported by the mass media," the spokesman said. "They said people who downloaded copyright material would no longer be punished. But that is not correct. Whoever downloads illegally will be punished."

People downloading material illegally would still be subject to fines, the FIMI spokesman said, and if the download involves P-to-P (peer-to-peer) file sharing those responsible could be prosecuted for a criminal offense. "The current law is perfectly satisfactory. There is no need to seek a modification of the law because of this verdict," he said.