This week Paul Mahoney, the former operator of streaming links site FastPassTV and discussion and linking forum BedroomMedia, was sentenced to jail by Judge Philip Babington.
According to figures provided by the prosecution, Mahoney ‘could’ have cost the movie industry £120m in lost revenue. Ultimately, however, the claims of a film industry out for blood ended up somewhat watered down.
In the cold light of day the court accepted a figure closer to £12m – quite an ‘achievement’ for a “partially blind recluse” who lived in a bedroom in his parents’ particularly modest home.
Given the tendency of the prosecution in these cases to blow losses figures wildly out of proportion, it’s perhaps more prudent to look at numbers backed up by evidence.
It doesn’t appear to be in question that Mahoney made £280,000 in advertising revenue from his sites and he was found in possession of £82,390 in cash when he was raided. That’s a decent amount by almost anyone’s standards and was never likely to be looked upon lightly by the court.
So, on the basis that Mahoney made large sums of money illegally it should come as no surprise that having pleaded guilty to substantial fraud he should’ve expected a custodial sentence this week. Such is the current climate in the UK and few people watching the case expected anything different.
But while some might argue that the term should have been limited to a few weeks or a handful of months, on Thursday the court handed Mahoney a four-year sentence, one of the toughest in UK pirate prosecution history.
For someone of Mahoney’s standing that term seems overly cruel and it appears that Mahoney’s lawyers feel so too. On Thursday they announced that the 29-year-old will be mounting an appeal, presumably to ensure that any punishment received fits the crime.
As we wait for the legal basis of that appeal to be made public, readers might be interested to hear of another fraud case that was concluded this week.
It involved businessman Nicholas Marcou from London, who used his legitimate businesses and contracts with supermarkets such as Aldi, Lidl, Sainsbury’s and Asda to fraudulently obtain millions from Barclays Bank.
According to figures provided by City of London Police, actual losses to Barclays Bank (versus the hypothetical losses conjured up in the Mahoney case) were £8,576,811.
Unlike Mahoney, who appears to have spent most of his adult life in a bedroom at his parents’ house, Marcou enjoyed ‘his’ money. According to a local news report he bought two homes worth more than £1.4m and £650,000 worth of cars including three Bentleys, three Aston Martins, a Porsche 911, and a Rolls Royce Silver Spirit.
While Marcou appears to have been driven by greed, Mahoney appears to have given much of his money away. According to a court report he “did not exhibit any of the features of a lavish lifestyle and his spending was concerned only to paying employees, running the site and accessing adult websites.”
It’s also worth bearing in mind that even if we take the previously mentioned £12m figure as accurate, those presumed losses were racked up by users of Mahoney’s site, not Mahoney himself. Site users were the ones who turned up and clicked ‘play’ and didn’t pay for whatever it was they watched. Although he clearly played a part, Mahoney didn’t take that money from the studio’s pockets, the public did. Marcou alone took the money from the bank.
Finger pointing aside, Mahoney ended up with a four-year sentence. For the record, Marcou the bank defrauder received just 3.5 years.
While anti-piracy groups such as FACT, who investigated the case, view Mahoney’s actions as extremely serious, something feels fundamentally wrong here.
Make no mistake, Mahoney should receive some punishment, if only because he knowingly and deliberately broke laws he knew could get him into serious trouble.
But should this man living on the fringes of society be given a more punishing sentence than a man who systematically stole £8.5m in cash from a bank in order to fund a dream lifestyle?
Perhaps in due course Mahoney’s defense team will raise the same questions. Until then he remains behind bars.