September last year IMAGiNE stopped distributing new films via their private BitTorrent tracker UnleashTheNet. As IMAGiNE was one of the Internet’s leading BitTorrent release groups, their absence quickly led to rumors that the group had been busted by the feds.
A few months later confirmation arrived when the group was indicted by the U.S. Government.
In April, Jeramiah Perkins of Portsmouth, Va., Gregory Cherwonik of New York, Willie Lambert of Pennsylvania, and Sean Lovelady of California, were all arrested and charged with several counts of criminal copyright infringement.
Earlier this month Lovelady and Lambert received 23 and 30 month prison sentences respectively, and yesterday 53-year old Cherwonik was jailed for 40 months by Virginia District Court Judge Arenda Allen.
In addition, Cherwonik was ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution to the MPAA.
An IMAGiNE Release
After he serves his prison sentence, Cherwonik will be placed on probation for three years during which time he will be forbidden from possessing any electronic device with the capability of reproducing and distributing copies of copyrighted materials.
The 40 month jail term is the longest for a file-sharing related case in the United States. According to the U.S government Cherwonik deserved a higher sentence than the previously convicted defendants. As a “sysop” he was higher in rank than Lambert and Lovelady who were “administrator” and “moderator” respectively.
Despite having a clean slate when it comes to criminal encounters with the law, the prosecution called for Cherwonik to be harshly punished, not least because he continued his work at IMAGiNE for more than a year after his house was first searched.
“Rather than use the search of his residence as a reason to reconsider his participation in the IMAGiNE Group and to end his role in the conspiracy to commit copyright crime, Defendant Cherwonik and his co-conspirators continued and accelerated their illegal conduct in defiance of the law,” United States Attorney Neil MacBride wrote to the court.
MacBride further cited a report, prepared on behalf of the major movie studios, which states that IMAGiNE was responsible for 41% of all instances of English language theatrical audio piracy from September 2009 to September 2011, which amounted to almost five times more releases than the next leading English language release group.
The report claims that the release group was so successful because of the “short latency periods between the theatrical release and their pirated release, their consistently good quality of audio captures, their high volume of releases, and their connection to international suppliers.”
IMAGiNE started their activities in 2009 and the feds started looking into the group early 2010 after they were tipped off by the MPAA.
In May 2010 investigators searched the home of Cherwonik, but the group continued to operate after that and even launched their own private BitTorrent tracker “UnleashTheNet” in the same year. Aside from releasing copyrighted films on their private tracker they also “capped” films at local movie theaters.
On the same day as Cherwonik’s sentencing a fifth IMAGiNE member also pleaded guilty. Javier Ferrer, 41, of New Port Richey, Florida, was not included in the original indictment but was charged September this year. Ferrer admitted to camming the movie “Fright Night” at a local movie theater and he will be sentenced March 2013.
The fourth member from the indictment, Jeramiah Perkins, is also scheduled to be sentenced early next year.