Little over a year after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement started “Operation In Our Sites,” the authorities have announced their first conviction. Yesterday, the first site owner targeted by the operation pleaded guilty. The 23-year old Matthew Smith, admitted to conspiracy and criminal copyright infringement charges for his role in the video streaming and download site NinjaVideo.
At the end of June last year, nine sites connected to movie streaming were targeted by the U.S. government, including NinjaVideo.net, one of the Internet’s most prominent video streaming sites.
It was the first round in the ongoing “Operation in Our Sites” through which more than 100 domain names have been seized to date.
In NinjaVideo’s case, the authorities not only seized the site’s domain names, but also launched a full-fledged criminal investigation into the people involved.
As a result, five people connected to the movie streaming site were indicted by a federal grand jury two weeks ago. All are suspected of conspiracy and several copyright-related offenses. One of the five, 23-year old Matthew Smith, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and criminal copyright infringement yesterday.
The guilty plea results in an automatic conviction and the court documents further reveal that Smith has waived his right to appeal.
The NinjaVideo founder plead guilty to two of the six counts, including conspiring with the other defendants to willfully infringe the rights of third parties for profit. Smith admitted that the site generated more than $500,000 from advertising and donations during the two-year period the site was active.
Four of the five criminal copyright charges were dismissed by the court; these all referred to specific movie titles (2012, Iron Man 2, Avatar and The A-Team). Smith did, however, plead guilty to the more general copyright infringement charges below, as stated in the original indictment.
“[Smith] Did willfully, and for purposes of private financial gain, infringe the copyrights of copyrighted works, that is, motion pictures, television programs, and software, by the reproduction and distribution over the Internet, during a 180-day period, of ten or more copies of one or more copyrighted works which had a total retail value of more than $2,500.”
The maximum penalty for both counts Smith plead guilty to is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He will be sentenced in December, and considering his cooperative stance it seems unlikely that he will receive maximum punishment.
The four other NinjaVideo defendants, including co-founder Hana Beshara, are scheduled for a jury trial February next year.