The owner of TV streaming links site SurfTheChannel has been found guilty of conspiracy to defraud at Newcastle Crown Court today for “facilitating” copyright infringement . The landmark case follows a sting operation by the MPAA, who partnered with the Federation Against Copyright Theft to obtain evidence against site operator Anton Vickerman. He will be sentenced next month and faces up to 10 years in jail.
At its height in 2010, SurfTheChannel.com was among the most-visited streaming link websites on the Internet with more than 400,000 visitors a day. This popularity didn’t go unnoticed by the UK and US entertainment industries, who went to extremes to bring the site down.
Aside from the use of an undercover agent to gain access to the defendants’ house under false pretenses, the case also witnessed the unprecedented involvement of US authorities in a UK court case, in which a defendant in the US was offered a deal after agreeing to cooperate and testify in a trial overseas.
Initially, it appeared that a criminal prosecution wouldn’t be progressed, but eventually the case went ahead after all. The trial against SurfTheChannel owner Anton Vickerman and his wife Kelly started at the Newcastle Crown Court last month and came to a conclusion today.
The Court found owner Mr. Vickerman guilty of conspiracy to defraud by “facilitating” copyright infringement. Mrs. Vickerman faced the same changes but was found not guilty.
Today’s landmark ruling is the first in which the owner of a linking website was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the entertainment industry.
A previous attempt at making the same charge stick with the prosecution of the owner of the OiNK BitTorrent tracker failed during 2010.
Although SurfTheChannel did not store any copyrighted material itself, the site did organize links to copyrighted streams on third-party sites. According to the prosecution, the website was making at least £35,000 a month.
FACT was quick to herald the Court’s verdict.
“This was a criminal conspiracy for criminal profit to fund a criminal lifestyle and Vickerman is now paying the price,” FACT Director General Kieron Sharp says, commenting on the case.
FACT further informs us that they will continue to go after pirate websites in the future.
“We look at piracy in all forms with a particular focus on those facilitating access to pirated content by running sites, hosting servers, obtaining the source material and often profiting from their activity by generating revenues from membership, donations and advertising.”
Lavinia Carey, Director General of the British Video Association, hopes that the verdict will deter others from starting similar websites so legitimate alternatives can thrive.
“These businesses are relatively new and should not have to compete against pirate websites that do nothing to reinvest in the production of new films and programmes. The verdict in this trial makes it evident to all that copyright theft will not be tolerated and that such sites are criminal operations,” she says.
The UK Pirate Party on the other hand is very worried about the verdict.
“This was not a case brought using copyright law. The interest groups involved couldn’t present a case of copyright infringement and instead decided to press for the use of the common law offence of “conspiracy to defraud,” Pirate Party leader Loz Kaye told TorrentFreak.
The Party is also worried about the intensive cooperation between private interest groups and law enforcement.
“In addition to flying in the face of recent findings in similar cases, this prosecution was driven by private interests, it is well known that the very groups representing the victim helped with the investigation, were present at the arrest, given access to the evidence and were present at police interviews.
“This is deeply concerning. Add to that the unorthodox and intrusive measures reported to have been used during the investigation and the pressure put on overseas witnesses and it becomes deeply worrying,” Kaye says.
Vickerman is scheduled to be sentenced July 30th and is facing a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.