For several decades, The Scene has been the main source of all pirated content made available on the Internet.
Technically, release groups operate in a closed ecosystem, but the reality is different. The vast majority of the files published on private Scene servers eventually find their way to public pirate sites.
Feds Bust SPARKS Group
The secretive nature of the Scene has been a major challenge for law enforcement but last summer the US Department of Justice had a major breakthrough. Following a thorough investigation, three members of the illustrious SPARKS group were indicted.
One of the defendants, Kansas resident Jonatan Correa (aka ‘Raid’), immediately confessed. In January he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, a serious crime punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a hefty fine.
No Prison Sentence
Yesterday, Correa received his sentence from a federal court in New York. After reviewing the positions of the prosecution and defense, US District Court Judge Richard M. Berman sentenced the former Scene member to time served and 27 months of supervised release.
Initially, Judge Berman proposed a three-month prison sentence followed by two years of supervised release. However, defense lawyer David Wikstrom tabled a proposal for Correa to serve the first three months in a Community Confinement facility instead.
The fact that Correa owns a business that employs dozens of people was the main reason for the defense to request detainment in a Community Confinement facility. This will allow the former Scene member to continue working while being in custody.
Judge Berman further noted that the purpose of the supervised release it to integrate Mr. Correa back into society. If it is shown that this goes well, the court is happy to grant an early termination.
Substantially Lower Sentence
The sentence is substantially lower than the maximum 18 months in prison prescribed by the guidelines, but that doesn’t come as a surprise. Previously, the U.S. probation service advised a six-month prison sentence and the prosecution was also in favor of relatively mild punishment.
U.S. Attorney Strauss previously asked the court for a lower sentence because Correa didn’t join the Scene for financial gain and because his role in the SPARKS group was relatively small.
“The Government believes that the defendant is substantially less culpable than the leaders of the Sparks Group who had more insight into the inner workings of the organization and oversaw its operations on a day-to-day basis,” Strauss wrote.
Correa’s own attorney also stressed the lack of a financial incentive and asked the court to forego a prison sentence entirely.
“[H]e didn’t do it for the money. This was his hobby, his compulsion. He worked all day, spent time at home in the evenings with his wife, and then after she went to bed, spent hours in front of the computer competing to be the fastest to upload a copy of a DVD to an FTP server,” the defense argued.
In addition to the supervised release sentence, Correa was also ordered to pay $54,000 to the Motion Picture Association. This is the damages amount that was attributed to his role in the SPARKS conspiracy.
During the proceeding, defense attorney Wistrom told the court that he has the full amount in escrow, adding that it would be paid immediately after the hearing.
Yesterday’s sentencing effectively closes this case. Two other defendants, George Bridi from Great Britain and Norway resident Umar Ahmad, have yet to appear in a US court. According to the US prosecution, their roles were more substantial, which would likely result in harsher sentences if they are found guilty.
Based on the information we have available, Bridi has yet to be extradited from Cyprus where he was previously detained while Ahmad is still at large.