Throwing File-Sharers in Jail to Grab Headlines

To the casual file-sharer, the big headlines of people going to jail for engaging in their hobby may seem like terrifying stuff. Indeed, for the anti-piracy bodies, scaring file-sharers away from their activities is vital because after all, you can't jail everyone, especially when laws don't allow you to do so. So who has been jailed so far and more importantly, why?

It’s fairly common on the internet to read that people go to jail for sharing files or file-sharing related activities. Some of these comments are made by the uninformed individual or passing writer, others are carefully crafted press releases which are designed to spread FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt – with the aim of reducing the numbers of people engaged in many different types of sharing-related activities. Although there is a chance of jail, even the more informed may believe that there is a significant chance of losing one’s liberty through being ‘busted’. So who has been to jail and what we’re they found guilty of?

Big Crook

First off, we’ll look at ‘Big Crook‘, the Hong Kong BitTorrent user jailed for 3 months for admitting uploading the Hollywood movies “Daredevil”, “Miss Congeniality” and “Red Planet”. Going to jail for using BitTorrent is a powerful headline which was designed to scare Hong Kong sharers away. Initially it worked with the HK BitTorrent community reduced by 80% after ‘Big Crook’s’ arrest. Unfortunately for the headline grabbers, the community size has since recovered and although there are undoubtedly significant numbers of people sharing Hollywood movies via BitTorrent, no-one further has even been arrested, let alone looking at prison. This ‘trophy’ bust which only has implications for Hong Kong residents, seems to have failed. Add that to the fact that this guy mounted the most ridiculous defense that was always destined to fail, this isn’t a really important verdict.

The Prince of Pirates

What about suppliers of material to file-sharing networks? Hollywood resident Johnny Ray Gasca – known as ‘The Prince of Pirates’ managed to get himself arrested three times for camcording movies in theaters. He’d hang around preview screenings and pass himself off as a movie insider in order to get access. He tried to argue that he didn’t profit from his activities but unfortunately notes in his diary said he’d made $4000 each week. When he didn’t get his confiscated equipment back he threatened the MPAA that he’d release even more movies online and said he would “laugh all the way to jail”. He was found guilty of criminal offenses (non-commercial file-sharing not involving pre-release media is a civil offense) and received 7 years in jail.

Pre-Release Leaks

In the United States ONLY, dealing in pre-release material or movies still in the theater was made a criminal offense when the Family Entertainment Copyright Act came into force. Up until then, things were dealt with under civil law. However, as soon as the changes were made, the government in the US (and the FBI) naturally got involved and they were quick to draw blood. For getting involved in the pre-release distribution of Star Wars Episode III, people who help to run the EliteTorrents website were all heavily punished. Scott McCausland, Grant Stanley and Sam Kuonen all went to prison. On July 23rd, Scott D. Harvanek will find out if he will join them.

Other people have also fallen foul of the law in the US when getting involved with pre-release material became a criminal offense. Salvador Nunez Jr is looking at a possible 3 years in jail for uploading the (pre-release) movies ‘Flushed Away’ and ‘Happy Feet’.

Jorge Romero uploaded 4 episodes of ’24′ to the video sharing site ‘LiveDigital’ in advance of their official screening, making him guilty of a criminal offense in the United States. He is facing the possibility of 3 years in jail.

International Warez Leader

Just last week, Hew Raymond Griffiths, leader of notorious warez group ‘DrinkorDie’ was found guilty of “criminal copyright infringement” as a result of Operation Bucaneer and was sentenced to 51 months in a US jail. Even though he was a British citizen living in Australia who never committed any offense on US soil, he was extradited to the US on criminal charges. This is quite important. The MPAA went to the UK and threatened Alexander Hanff, (owner of the BitTorrent tracker DVDR-Core) with all sorts but he showed some great spirit and understanding of the law and refused to comply. They wanted him to come to the US to face them in Court but sadly, he didn’t want to go and because it was a civil case in another country and unlikely that he would be extradited, everything just died away and it seems they left him alone.

Conclusion

So in summary, if you live in Hong Kong and are caught uploading Hollywood movies and mount a ridiculous defense, you may be the unlucky one in hundreds of thousands to be made an example of.

Camcording movies is a very risky business in the US and will almost certainly result in some criminal charges, but as the millions of file-sharers around the world aren’t generally camming, these convictions have no effect on them.

Dealing in pre-release movies in the US automatically involves the FBI. That’s uploading, supplying, facilitating or operating a site, possibly any link will do for the FBI to start looking at jail, including if you upload something like SiCKO to YouTube. However, US law isn’t valid outside of the US so the millions of non-US file-sharers remain unaffected.

As for the DrinkOrDie case, 99.99% of all file-sharers aren’t being accused of pirating millions of dollars worth of material, so they can ignore this headline too. No small time downloader has been to jail for sharing applications.

If you’re a citizen of any county in the world apart from the US, the chances of going to jail for non-commercial file-sharing appear to be minuscule. Even a US citizen could achieve a similar level of security by not being the original suppliers of pre-release material.

Jail for Sharing? If I can find an offense that fewer people are in jail for around the world, i’ll be sure to report it.

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