IMAGiNE BitTorrent Group Sysop Speaks Out as He Heads to Prison

A convicted member of the now-defunct online movie piracy group IMAGiNE has left a public statement before starting his 40-month prison term. Last Friday 53-year-old sysop Gregory Cherwonik of New York was transferred to a detention facility to serve his sentence. In his first public words on the case he criticizes the MPAA and the U.S. Department of Justice, among others.

In 2011 the notorious IMAGiNE movie piracy group was dismantled by the feds. The group was known for releasing large numbers of movies onto the Internet, many of them still playing in theaters.

This attracted the attention of the MPAA who launched an investigation which eventually led to the arrests of four U.S. residents.

These IMAGiNE members were charged with several counts of criminal copyright infringement and they eventually received prison sentences ranging from 23 months in prison up to five years.

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Among the sentenced is 53-year-old IMAGiNE sysop Gregory Cherwonik, mentor of a robotics team from Canandaigua. According to his sentencing papers Cherwonik was transferred to prison last Friday, but not before speaking out on the case for the first time.

TorrentFreak received a series of documents from an email address that appears to belong to the 53-year-old IMAGiNE member. While our requests for clarification remained unanswered, we have good faith belief that they are indeed Cherwonik’s writing.

The full documents are available here and appear to have been written at different times, both before and after his sentencing early January. Below we’ll go over some of the statements the sysop makes.

“Well if you’re reading this, I guess I must be in Jail,” one note starts.

“Spunky here … most of you know me by my real name Greg Cherwonik, thank you DOJ for splattering that on the internet. I’ve got a few parting comments to make before I slip into the shadows of prison life.”

Cherwonik goes on to explain that he never made any money from his work at IMAGiNE or their UnleashThe.net BitTorrent tracker.

“Serving time for copyright infringement, a victimless crime that I never made a single dollar off of. In fact over the years I bet I paid a thousand or so in site donations and server costs, not even including the time I spent doing code work for a dozen or so places,” he writes.

The IMAGiNE sysop further mentions that in his opinion the case should have been a civil one, and he doesn’t see why copyright infringement is a federal offense.

“Pirating a federal offense? It’s beyond me how this has happened. Federal offenses were always the most serious of crimes. You tell me how copying a little audio or video has fallen into this category.”

He goes on to blame copyright groups for influencing legislation in their favor.

“I guess if you pay off enough politicians and ‘give’ so many millions to [the] right law enforcement agencies you can get anything you want. Throw in a couple high paid lawyers to twist the words of the Patriot Act around, and viola …. PIRATING is a Federal Offense.”

Consequently, the maximum penalty of 5-years prison is too harsh according to Cherwonik.

“It’s bad enough they call you a terrorist in front of your kids (I think it’s their way of justifying it), but then there’s the 5 year MAX for the first offense. WTF is that, you’re telling me a person with no previous criminal convictions can get up to 5 years for releasing a movie.”

Concluding one of his notes the sysop says that his involvement in IMAGiNE and UnleashThe.net was not worth the time he has to spend in prison now. He learned a lot from the experience, but perhaps lost even more as it is unlikely that he can continue his mentor work when he’s released.

“As for my incarceration. Was it worth it? NO.”

“Nothing is worth losing your freedom, would I do it again … hmmm I don’t know. I learned so much from it. Without it I wouldn’t have learned HTML and PHP. Both of which I use on the website I made for the Robotics teams I used to Mentor. They probably won’t want a felon to Mentor the kids.”

“Too bad, I really enjoyed working with them.”

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