Last year, the US Department of Justice booked one of its biggest successes in its battle against online piracy.
In August, law enforcement upset the international piracy ecosystem by taking out a prominent Scene group, which was the source for many pirated movies and TV-shows.
SPARKS Raids Throw Piracy Scene in Turmoil
With help from international law enforcement partners, several raids and arrests were carried out, with the SPARKS group at the center of it all. The authorities later confirmed that three people had been indicted with all facing ‘copyright infringement conspiracy’ charges.
The crackdown didn’t just affect these three but it hit the entire warez Scene. Dozens of topsites are believed to be taken down in the raids and many more halted their operations as a precaution, which significantly reduced the volume of pirate releases.
With many of the court records not being available, it is hard to track the progress of the case. However, this week one of the defendants, Jonatan Correa (aka ‘Raid’), appeared in court before US District Court Judge Richard M. Berman.
Correa was the only defendant arrested in the US last summer. After being placed in custody in Kansas, the defendant was released on a $75,000 bail bond the next day. Initially, he maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty but that changed yesterday.
SPARKS Member Pleads Guilty
During a hearing via a telephone conference yesterday, Correa changed his earlier statement. The defendant signed a plea agreement with the US Government and pleaded guilty to the copyright infringement conspiracy charge.
Among other things, Correa admits to conspiring with other members of the SPARKS group to commit copyright infringement. According to the indictment, that involved obtaining pre-release Blu-ray discs from wholesale distributors several weeks before their retail release date.
During the hearing, Correa admitted that he ripped these discs and uploaded the pirated videos to a co-conspirator’s server, located in Westchester County. From there, these files were distributed further, eventually ending up on public sites. This allegedly cost the movie industry millions of dollars in damages.
At the time of writing the plea agreement isn’t publicly available. This means that details are scarce at this point.
US Government attorney Andrew Chan did mention during the hearing that they have ample evidence, including financial records and photos of the obtained discs, taken from the defendant’s email account.
Correa informed the judge that he is fully aware of the consequences of his guilty plea. He further agreed to waive several rights and promised to fully cooperate with the Government’s preparation of a presentence investigation report.
Correa Faces Prison Sentence
In theory, a conviction for a copyright infringement conspiracy is punishable by five years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000. However, both parties agreed to a sentencing guideline of 12 to 18 months for Correa, taking his cooperation and criminal history into account.
The court scheduled the Sparks defendant to be sentenced in May and it’s likely that more details will become available before that date.
The two other defendants, George Bridi from Great Britain and Norway resident Umar Ahmad (aka ‘Artist’), haven’t appeared in US court. According to the information we have available, Bridi has yet to be extradited from Cyprus where he was previously detained while Ahmad is still at large.