In a world first, three Australia-based university students are before a court in Sydney charged with the criminal offence of online music piracy. And in an unprecedented move, the Australian recording industry is seeking to intervene in the case, arguing that the court must impose jail terms to deter other file swappers globally. In previous cases in Britain and the United States concerning illegal file downloading, authorities have taken civil action. The three - Tommy Le, Charles Ng and Peter Tran - all in their early 20s, have pleaded guilty to the charges. They face a jail sentence of up to five years or a fine of A$60,500 (HK$323,159) for each incident of copyright infringement. The defendants' chain of websites was called 'MP3 WMA land' and enabled users to download almost 390 music CDs containing more than 1,800 tracks. The sites reportedly received more than seven million hits. The Australian Recording Industry Association (Aria) - the industry's chief lobby group, runs an investigation agency known as Music Piracy Investigations (MPI). MPI helped to bring the three accused before the courts, in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police. MPI criticised the plea bargain made between lawyers for the students and the prosecution, under which the accused pleaded guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. MPI chief investigator Michael Speck said: 'We came to court because the case was watered down to nothing.' So concerned is MPI with the outcome of the case that legal representative John Hennessy made an application to the magistrate hearing the case in the New South Wales Local Court, to allow the recording industry to file a victim impact statement. Victim impact statements are used in Australian courts in cases such as rape, assault and armed robbery. Mr Hennessy told the court on October 1 that the Australian recording industry had lost $60 million due to the trio's activities. He said it was important the court send a message worldwide that offenders would be dealt with by the legal system. But it appears the MPI's tactics are backfiring. Prosecutor Paul Roberts told the court that MPI was simply a self-styled investigation agency that had 'absolutely no standing' in the case. The court agreed, telling MPI that it was 'totally inappropriate' for the recording industry to have a direct role in the sentencing process. A report earlier this month in the Australian Financial Review that the MPI's claims of revenue loss had not been verified by the Australian Federal Police was a further blow to the recording industry's case. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Ng said the MPI had 'declared war on their primary customers - students and young adults who also happen to enjoy sampling music off the internet before purchasing it because they claim it is affecting their sales and affecting their artists but they are only interested in increasing their bottom line'. Ng pointed to recent consumer surveys that demonstrated that many users of file-downloading sites 'try before they buy'. He accused the music recording industry of going after the wrong target. Investigating organisations such as MPI should be catching people who were profiteering from large-scale piracy, rather than file sharers and downloaders, Ng said. Sentencing will take place on November 10. Ironically, the hearing of the case has coincided with the release of figures by Aria that show CD, video and DVD music sales have risen 2.6 per cent to 25.8 million units in the first six months of the year, reversing a 3.7 per cent decline last year. And it would appear that the Australian recording industry is facing an uphill battle in convincing consumers that downloading music files is wrong. According to Aria's own research, only 30 per cent of the major demographic that downloads - people under 25 - think that illegal downloading is wrong.