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 the hiatus sparked speculation that the authorities were onto them. Indeed, TorrentFreak was tipped off by the leader of a rival group that this indeed was the case.
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 charged with several counts of criminal copyright infringement.
An IMAGiNE Release
According to the indictment the four worked together to cam, rip and release many pirated films to the public, The authorities described IMAGiNE as “one of the largest and most effective organized copyright crime groups on the Internet.”
A report prepared on behalf of the major movie studios further alleged 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.
Yesterday, Lambert and Lovelady were the first IMAGiNE members to be sentenced by Virginia District Court Judge Arenda Allen.
Willie Lambert, 57, received a 30 month prison sentence and three years of supervised release. Sean Lovelady, 28, was sentenced to 23 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
In addition, the four defendants were ordered to jointly and severally pay $449,514 in restitution to the MPAA.
The sentences are lower than the advised 46-57 months prison term suggested by the Department of Justice, but higher than any file-sharing related conviction in the past. Both Lambert and Lovelady were reported to have no criminal history and had plead guilty to one count of criminal copyright infringement.
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 one of the defendants, but the group continued to operate after that and even launched their own private BitTorrent tracker in the same year.
Aside from reproducing and releasing copyrighted films on their private tracker UnleashTheNet they also “capped” films at local movie theaters.
The two remaining IMAGiNE defendants also plead guilty in previous months. They are awaiting their sentencing later this month and early 2013.