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.
The SPARKS Bust
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 men connected to the illustrious SPARKS group were indicted.
One of the defendants, a British man named George Bridi, was arrested in Cyprus on an Interpol Red Notice. After an extradition process that took nearly a year, he was eventually extradited to the United States where he pleaded guilty.
After more than 17 months in custody, Bridi was sentenced today. The U.S. Attorney had requested a significant prison term of between 27 and 33 months, which is also what the guidelines prescribe. According to the prosecution, a significant sentence would help to deter other pirates.
The defense disagreed and asked for a sentence reduction. Bridi’s attorney Louis Freeman argued that a lower sentence was warranted due to various personal and health issues. In addition, the likelihood that his client will make the same mistake again is very low.
22 months in Prison
After reviewing the positions of the prosecution and defense, US District Court Judge Richard M. Berman took the middle ground. Earlier today, Judge Berman sentenced the former Scene member to 22 months in prison.
“Infringement of U.S. copyrights is a big problem in our economy,” Judge Richard Berman said, quoted by Reuters. “It’s doubly troubling that it can be conducted […] from outside the U.S.”
At the same hearing, Mr. Bridi showed remorse and apologized for the damage he had caused to the movie studios and their employees.
The SPARKS group was the driving force behind hundreds of movie and TV show releases, which also came out under related tags such as “DRONES,” “ROVERS,” “GECKOS,” and “SPRINTER.”
Among other things, Mr. Bridi served as a manager and supervisor in the SPARKS Group. He purchased the discs from the distributors, coordinated shipments to lower lever members of the group, and urged at least one other individual to upload discs as soon as possible.
Similar to other Scene members, Mr. Bridi stressed that there was no profit motive. Instead, the group’s goal was to win ‘races’ from other groups, by releasing TV shows and movies first.
After the criminal prosecution was announced in 2020, it soon became apparent that the feds had spooked many other Scene groups as well.
Following the raids, several topsites went offline. Some of these had their infrastructure caught up in the enforcement, but many others decided to lay low as a precaution. Meanwhile, the rumor mill was in full swing, with some fearing that the action was just the start.
Today’s sentencing is the second conviction in the SPARKS case. Previously, Kansas resident Jonatan Correa was sentenced to time served and 27 months of supervised release.
The third defendant, Norway resident Umar Ahmad a.k.a. “Artist”, has yet to be located and remains at large.