February 1 2013, was a miserable day for five of the UK’s most prolific online movie pirates.
Following an investigation by the UK’s Federation Against Copyright Theft, police raided Graeme Reid, 40, from Chesterfield, Scott Hemming, 25, and Reece Baker, 22, both from Birmingham, Sahil Rafiq, 24, of Wolverhampton and Ben Cooper, 33, of Willenhall.
The investigation into the activities of these men had been running for three years as FACT attempted to identify and track the individuals behind several interrelated movie release groups including RemixHD, 26K, UNiQUE, DTRG and HOPE/RESISTANCE.
The five men were arrested and by January 2015 all had pleaded guilty to charges of Conspiracy to Defraud.
The extent of the infringement claimed by FACT was huge. The anti-piracy group said that between March 1, 2010 and January 1, 2014, the groups had together released more than 9,000 movies onto the Internet resulting in around five million unauthorized views.
FACT claimed that around £52m of Hollywood revenues had been “put at risk” – an amount that was detailed in our report last weekend.
Following a so-called Newton hearing that began in Wolverhampton Crown Court on Monday, the men finally admitted causing the industry more than £5 million in losses, around £1 million each.
Yesterday afternoon in Wolverhampton Crown Court Judge Nicolas Webb carried out sentencing and it’s a dismal result for the men.
Sahil Rafiq, accused of uploading more than 880 movies and causing 1.5 million illegal downloads as founder of 26K, was jailed for 4 years and 6 months.
Reece Baker, a member of DTRG and the founder of HOPE/RESISTANCE, was jailed for 4 years and 2 months after being accused of causing more than 226,000 illegal downloads. Baker aggravated his circumstances by continuing to release movies online even while he was on bail.
Graeme Reid, the founder of ‘RemixHD’ and with connections to ‘UNiQUE’, was accused of causing 1.1 million illegal downloads and was jailed for 3 years and 6 months.
Ben Cooper, a member of HOPE and the founder of release groups ANALOG and TCM, was jailed for 3 years and 6 months after being blamed for more than 150,000 illegal downloads.
Scott Hemming, who is said to have released around 800 movies online which together were downloaded a minimum of 2.6 million times, received a 2 year suspended sentence.
Following their most aggressive private prosecution to date, the Federation Against Copyright Theft is celebrating success.
“Today’s sentencing is a great success for FACT as it marks the first time a release group has been criminally prosecuted. Rafiq, Baker, Reid, Cooper and Hemming were all aware that they were engaging in criminal activity. Their actions have now cost them their liberty,” says FACT Director General, Kieron Sharp.
“The result of this case sends out a serious message to anyone engaging in online piracy to think twice or face getting caught, prosecuted and sent to prison.
A source very close to the case informs TorrentFreak that the sentences would’ve been greater had the men not pleaded guilty early. However, there was still a penalty for those who did not immediately accept FACT’s version of events in the group’s private prosecution.
Immediately before yesterday’s hearing, TF was informed that those who did not dispute anything would receive a third knocked off their sentence. Those that did dispute FACT’s evidence would receive only a quarter.
However, while the sentences are no doubt extremely aggressive, there could be light at the end of the tunnel. TF is informed that two of the men already had criminal records but the others could eventually, if not quickly, be moved to a low security prison. Yesterday morning, at least one was hoping for decent conditions.
“We will all be in an open prison so will probably only do a few months inside then be allowed home for visits. We will then probably be placed on tag [outside prison but monitored] due to the fact three out of the five had no prior convictions at all,” TF was told.
The inside track to this case is intriguing and will be detailed in a future TF report.