In 2021, the US Department of Justice launched a criminal proceeding against two men suspected of running a massive YouTube Content ID scam.
By falsely claiming to own the rights to more than 50,000 songs, the pair generated more than $23 million in revenue.
Last year, the first defendant confessed to his part in the copyright swindle by pleading guilty. Webster Fernandez admitted it was a simple scheme: find Latin American music that wasn’t yet monetized on YouTube and claim the content as their own.
In February of this year, the second defendant pleaded guilty. Jose Teran signed a plea agreement admitting that he was part of the conspiracy, engaging in wire fraud and money laundering.
First Defendant Sentenced to 70 Months Prison
Teran wasn’t the initiator of the scheme and hoped to get away with a relatively mild sentence. The defense requested a probation or home confinement sentence, which would allow the defendant to continue to care for his family.
The Government, however, called for a substantial 70-month sentence, arguing that this was necessary to send an appropriate deterrent message.
At a sentencing hearing in June, U.S. District Court Judge Douglas L. Rayes sided with the Government’s position, sentencing the defendant to more than five years in prison followed by three years of probation.
Second Defendant Requests Lower Sentence
A few days ago, the attorney for Webster Fernandez submitted a memorandum for the upcoming sentencing of his client. According to the defense, the alleged initiator of the Content ID scam deserves a reduced sentence.
The defendant admits to his part in the fraudulent scheme. Through the company MediaMuv he and his co-defendant defrauded YouTube [Y.T.], rights management outfit AdRev [A.R.], as well as many artists.
“Jose Teran and Webster Batista Fernandez fraudulently created contracts with companies which purportedly managed certain artists, and then emailed the contracts to Y.T. and A.R. for the purpose of deceiving Y.T. and A.R., and continuing their fraudulent operation,” the defense attorney notes.
“Mr. Fernandez concedes that he made a terrible decision to become involved in criminal conduct, which has not only affected his family and children, but has also caused financial harm to the victims involved in this case.”
Fernandez was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to the United States in 2002. The Content ID scam was the 35-year-old defendant’s first felony offense and he promises to do everything in his power to get his life back on track.
Mr. Fernandez previously worked in the music industry for major labels including Sony. He produced videos and also has a YouTube channel which brought in approximately $200,000 per month. His arrest brought his career to an abrupt halt.
While the defense doesn’t deny wrongdoing, it believes that a reduced 46-month prison sentence should be sufficient. After that, he would like to be there again for his young family.
“Clearly, Defendant Webster Batista Fernandez has learned a significant lesson and wants to reform his life, as demonstrated through his post-arrest conduct in this case. Ultimately, Mr. Batista Fernandez wants a second chance to be a positive role model for his children, and to provide substantial restitution to the victims.
“Based on the mitigating factors in this case, a sentence not to exceed 46 months’ imprisonment will provide just punishment, allow for adequate deterrence, protect the public, and promote respect for the law,” the defense adds.
The Government has yet to issue its recommendation but given that it requested a substantially higher sentence for the other defendant in this case, it seems likely that it will do so here as well.
After that, it’s up to the court to issue a final sentence, which is expected to arrive later this year.
A copy of the sentencing memorandum submitted by the attorney of Webster Batista Fernandez is available here (pdf)