Following a three year investigation by Hollywood-backed anti-piracy group the Federation Against Copyright Theft, last week five of the UK’s most prolific movie pirates were sentenced in the West Midlands.
Graeme Reid, 40, from Chesterfield, Scott Hemming, 25, and Reece Baker, 22, both from Birmingham, Sahil Rafiq, 24, of Wolverhampton and Ben Cooper, 33, of Willenhall, received sentences totaling 17 years.
The men were behind several interrelated movie release groups including RemixHD, 26K, UNiQUE, DTRG and HOPE/RESISTANCE.
“Over a number of years the groups illegally released online more than 2,500 films including Argo, the Avengers and Skyfall,” FACT said in a statement.
“The outreach of their criminality was vast. On just one website where the group shared their films there had been millions of downloads.”
Speaking at Wolverhampton Crown Court, FACT prosecutor David Groome said that the men had gone to great lengths to avoid being detected. But was that really the case and just how easy was it to track them down?
TF has obtained papers detailing the FACT investigation and they reveal that unmasking the men was surprisingly easy. In descending sentence length:
Sahil Rafiq – Jailed for 4 years and 6 months
In July 2012 a FACT investigator began monitoring Rafiq’s release group, 26K. He found that many of the torrents had been uploaded by a user known as ‘memory100’.
It was discovered that ‘memory100’ had a profile on torrent site Torlock and it was determined that the same user also went under other names including ‘sohail20’, ‘hail_alpha’ and ‘froggie100’, with the former laying down the golden crumb.
In 2012, Sohail20 had posted on a forum belonging to online retailer PC Specialist. In that post he complained about issues he was having with a laptop.
“Could you help me out?” he asked. “Kind Regards, Sahil Rafiq.”
Further searches on the name Sohail20 revealed an account on PhotoBucket and a Memory100 logo file named memory100.jpg (now removed).
Suspecting they were closing in, FACT’s investigator turned to Facebook and found Rafiq’s profile. From there they found his place of work, a science school in Wolverhampton in central UK. FACT then turned to credit reference agency Equifax which revealed Rafiq’s home address. These details were handed to the police.
Reece Baker – Jailed for 4 years and 2 months
In 2012 the same FACT investigator began monitoring Baker’s release group ‘HOPE’. In the ‘NFO’ (information) files attached to a HOPE release, it was revealed that the encoder was called ‘Baker92′ while detailing a Hushmail email address where he could be contacted.
In another NFO file Baker would make a fatal mistake with the comment “My First Encode Comment & Tell Me What You Think – Plus I Love My Baby Momzie Ria”
After finding a post on torrent site Myris.me which indicated that Baker92 had been a member of another release group DTRG, FACT again turned to Equifax. Presuming the ’92’ in his nickname related to his birth year, FACT searched for any person named Baker born in 1992 with an association to anyone called Ria. This led FACT – and the police – to Reece Baker’s front door.
Graeme Reid – jailed for 3 years and 6 months
During the same month in which FACT investigated 26K, the anti-piracy group discovered from the group’s NFO files that they were affiliated with Reid’s group, RemixHD.
An NFO file for the movie 21 Jump Street revealed that the encoder was a person known as ‘Reidy’ who could be contacted at Hushmail email address. Hushmail is known for its security but that has limits – Reid used the same email address on his Facebook page where he described himself as an “encoder” who lived in Chesterfield.
FACT then turned to the Electoral Register and subsequently discovered Reid’s home address which was passed to the police.
Ben Cooper – jailed for 3 years and 6 months
During July 2012, when FACT were investigating HOPE, they discovered an associated user called ‘Cooperman666’ who also used a Hushmail email account. Again, an NFO file for a movie helped to make links, indicating that the encoding had been done by ‘Cooperman’.
Subsequent searches revealed that Cooperman666 was also an encoder for release group ANALOG and in their NFO files a Live.com email address was listed for contact. However, that same email address was also used for a Facebook account held in the name of Ben Cooper. That page revealed he lived in Wolverhampton and was born in 1981.
FACT turned to Equifax and the credit agency provided Cooper’s personal details.
Scott Hemming – 2 year suspended sentence
In July 2012, when FACT were investigating 26K, the anti-piracy group identified people who were formerly members of another release group known as DTRG. NFO files examined by FACT listed the encoder as ‘Kareemzos’ who could be contacted on the email address “[email protected]”
After linking Kareemzos to other groups including MARGIN, UNiQUE and INSANE, FACT then struck lucky. Posts made on Virgin Media’s support forum listed the same email address as above and it appears that the ISP later revealed that the associated account belonged to Hemming’s mother.
Again, Equifax provided the missing link by confirming that Hemming lived at the same house.
The above confirms that no amount of encryption is a replacement for basic Internet ‘hygiene’. Using the same aliases and email addresses across multiple sites while including birth dates and nicknames that point to real identities is clearly a recipe for disaster.
While FACT clearly did their homework and worked extremely hard to get convictions, the actions taken by these men to hide their identities aren’t shining examples of the art.
After FACT and police tracked the men down to their homes, what happened next, what did they hope to find and how could this evidence be connected to their crimes? That article is coming up soon….