Surf The Channel operator get four years improsement for conspiracy to defraud.

One of the biggest threats facing the film industry is piracy through illegal download of film and TV programmes. This is an issue I frequently discuss with one of my cousins, who is almost an addict to downloading poor quality new releases via the internet. The majority of the time he tells me the quality can be poor. I do explain to him that every time he does so, he is killing the industry that I work in. As discussed in the article below sites like SurfTheChannel have a very detrimental effect to the film and TV industry.

It’s easy to get lured into believing that accessing movies from such sites is harmless: its only the odd movie here and there. Audience expect bigger stunts visual and green screen effects and at the same time production costs have got much tighter in a competitive market. If a large source of revenue is being lost through piracy it threatens the ongoing reinvestment in the creative industries and will also have serious implication for the numbers of people working in the industry and their rates of pay.

Last week Anton Vickerman, a 38-year-old from Gateshead was sentenced  in the UK to four years in jail for running a website that linked to pirated US TV and film content. The first person in the UK to have been convicted on such charges. This had followed a very intensive evidence gathering campaign by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) who are financed by the UK Film industry.

Methods used to gather the evidence against Vickerman included one of its agents posing as a prospective house buyer and filmed inside his house – and obtained evidence at a meeting where another Fact operative posed undercover as an investor in his website.

In 2007  set up by Vickerman  Surfthechannel quickly his “video search engine” became a prime destination online, growing from 40,000 links in April 2008 to more than two million in August 2009, and was just outside the 500 most visited sites online, according to evidence presented at the trial.

Vickerman, had located the website in Sweden and received payments for adverts on the site through bank accounts in Latvia. Vickerman formed partnerships with some of the large production houses such as Warner Bros, Discovery Channel, A&E Television Networks among others as they realised how important Surfthechannel was becoming in the video on demand market, becoming second only in scale to Google Video.

Procution claimed that Vickerman was earning between £12,00 to £60,000 a month from advertisements on his site which allowed people to download TV shows and films

Estimated figure by the film industry put the loss to the industry between £52m and £198m, on the basis that 55% of those who watched films via the site might instead have seen it in the cinema, rented a DVD’s although the judge disputed their calculations  but said it had undoubtedly “suffered a loss running into millions”.

It was stated in court that in the case of Chronicle of Narnia, which was in cinemas in June 2008, it could be downloaded one month before its release on Surfthechannel.

Quoted in the Telegraph Kieron Sharp, Director General of the Federation Against Copyright Theft, said it was a “satisfactory” result after a long investigation. He went on to say

“This is about people’s jobs, not one or two highly paid actors in Hollywood. This is about people who service the film industry, like caterers, stuntmen, technicians and everyone that works on films.”

Judge Evans, said Vickerman had in some cases located files of films and uploaded them to sites, often in China, which he then linked back to on his site, and that forum messages, chat logs and emails sent and received by Vickerman indicated that he “knew fine well” that the site was not operating lawfully.

Following a 7 week trail a jury found Vickerman guilty and he was convicted on two counts of conspiracy to defraud and sentenced  to four years in imprisonment. Vickerman is understood to be planning an appeal and given that it has been the first conviction it will be observed with interest. It was interesting too that the Crown Prosecution Service declined to mount a case under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA). TVlinks and Newzbin and others have been tried under forms of the CDPA and were not found guilty of infringement. Other issues which Vickerman raised during the trail were the methods FACT used to build a case against him.

Information gathered from The Guardian and Mail on line  newspapers.

Image by Tom Dowling

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Categories: Film and TV

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1 reply

  1. hi
    he may be a wrong-un but the charges brought, the sentence & the manner of the investigation don’t appear to be fair..

    For instance: owning a site that is a list of links is worth a four year custodial sentence? Even if those are infringing links this doesn’t seem very fair: I don’t see search-engines in the dock on similar charges. And shouldn’t it be a civil case? ie: it’s just an illegal business – not criminal?

    Oh, and you don’t appear to link to http://www.surfthechannel.com itself as a source? Vickerman goes into some depth there. But providing links to sources like that, might prove to become quite a liability, based on the precedence this case sets. And according to his site those ‘forum messages, chat logs and emails’ don’t appear to be very sound sources of evidence.

    Again, he may be a wrong-un, but for an important precedence-setting case like this, I, personally, would like to be reassured it was a solid case.

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