The British owner of surfthechannel.com, a video-linking website, has been sentenced to four years behind bars for facilitating copyright infringement, making him the first British citizen in the United Kingdom to be jailed for running a website that linked to pirated material.
Anton Vickerman, 38, was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to defraud after a private investigation that was funded by copyright owners. Vickerman's website circumvented British copyright laws by linking to pirated content instead of hosting it. Because of that, the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), which is funded by Hollywood and affiliated with the MPAA, set up a sting operation to catch Vickerman.
What's interesting about Vickerman's story is just how involved the FACT/MPAA investigation was. According to TorrentFreak, FACT set up a sting and compiled a significant amount of personal information on Vickerman and his wife. FACT apparently managed to nab Vickerman's home address, make/model/license number of his wife's car and detailed loan and mortgage information.
FACT also compiled detailed information on Vickerman's wife and parents, including banking and credit card information.
The private investigators also set up a sting operation and sent undercover agents to discover more information about Vickerman, his wife, and the website. One agent posed as a venture capitalist who was interested in funding the website (pretty normal), but another agent posed as a potential house buyer (not so normal).
During one of the meetings with an undercover agent, Vickerman revealed that the site had an average of 400,000 visitors each day and made about $50,000 in monthly revenue from ads. When Vickerman's house was raided, it became clear just how closely FACT and the MPAA were working with the authorities; Hollywood representatives were allowed to take part in the questioning and private investigators were allowed to examine seized equipment.
Ultimately, UK authorities decided not to pursue a case against the Vickermans (Kelly Vickerman was also arrested, but her charges were dropped). However, FACT and the MPAA were allowed to pursue a private prosecution over conspiracy to defraud, which ultimately resulted in Vickerman's jail sentence.
If you think this all sounds a little fishy, you're not alone. The UK Pirate Party correctly points out that there are some serious issues with how this case went down.
"This was not a case brought using copyright law," UK Pirate Party leader Loz Kaye said in a statement to ZDNet. "The interest groups involved couldn't present a case of copyright infringement and decided to press for the use of the common law offense of 'conspiracy to defraud.' This offense is incredibly controversial in English law as it criminalizes conduct by two or more parties that would not be criminal when performed by an individual."
The fact that much of the evidence in the Vickerman case came from industry groups is also troubling. TorrentFreak points out the Vickerman case is similar to the FileSoup case, which ended up being dismissed because the introduced evidence had been gathered solely by FACT.