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Vickerman Piracy Case Sunday Times

Vickerman Piracy Case Sunday Times

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Published by Julia O'dwyer

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Published by: Julia O'dwyer on May 20, 2012
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08/14/2012

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Sunday Times
Hollywood sting lands „pirate‟ pair in the brig
 
A Gateshead couple are accused of running a site that enabled a billion illegalfilm and TV viewings a year
Paul Stokes and Georgia Graham Published: 20 May 2012Kelly Vickerman is accused of helping to pirate copies of an Indiana Jones filmA sting operation by Hollywood studios on a British couple has led to what the film industrybelieves is the biggest case of alleged download fraud to be heard in a UK court.Anton Vickerman, 37, and his wife Kelly, 39, ran surfthechannel.com, a website that, thecourt heard, became at one stage more popular than Facebook or the BBC by allegedlyproviding links to pirated television shows and blockbuster films on other sites. The couple,who are charged with two counts of conspiracy to defraud, have pleaded not guilty.Newcastle crown court was told last week that the involvement of the Vickermans came tolight following the sting by an investigator from the Motion Picture Association of America(MPAA), which represents the big six Hollywood studios, including Walt Disney and WarnerBrothers.
The website was run from the couple’s unassuming redbrick terrace house in Gateshead. The
2008 investigation resulted in a private prosecution being brought by the Federation AgainstCopyright Theft (Fact), the UK version of the MPAA, against the Vickermans that will haveserious implications for how the film industry polices alleged internet piracy. The maximumsentence for conspiracy to defraud is life imprisonment.
 
Determined to trace the operators of surfthechannel.com, Fact launched Operation Stemp in2008, the court was told. Pascal Hetzschold, a former Dutch policeman who specialised inonline crime, contacted the website posing as Roger Van Veen, a go-between for a venturecapitalist.
After a series of “cat and mouse” emails, Hetzschold agreed to meet someone called “Anton”
at the Meridien hotel in Piccadilly, London on July 10, 2008, after a confidentialityagreement was signed.Hetzsch
old told the court that when they met, Anton said he aimed to be the world’s “YellowPages” for television and films within 12 months. It is claimed that Anton told the MPAA
investigator that surfthechannel.com attracted 400,000 users a day with 120,000 links to othersites being accessed. He claimed to be making $50,000 a month.Anton eventually told Hetzschold he had been involved in running the site from the startalong with two other people. He also said there was a virtual team all over the world, thecourt heard. After the meeting, Vickerman was tailed back to his home in Gateshead.Kelly Vickerman sobbed as the jury was told how investigators for Fact
 — 
which wasworking in tandem with the MPAA
 — 
 
had obtained details of the couple’s bank accounts,
cars and telephone records.Paul Varley, a private investigator working for Fact, posed as a prospective house buyer to
film computer equipment in the Vickermans’ home. A month later the house was raided by
police, who arrested the couple for breaches of the copyright act and seized computerequipment. However, four months later the Crown Prosecution Service announced itsdecision not to press charges.David Broome, prosecuting, said the links on surfthechannel.com to illegal downloading andstreaming sites were used about a billion times a year; it had been the 510th most visitedwebsite out of 40 billion worldwide in 2008.A month before the release of Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, pirated versions hadbeen accessed 115,640 times, and illegal copies of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of theCrystal Skull had been watched 102,539 times within hours of its official launch in cinemas,the court heard.
Broome told the court: “Film companies lose a lot of money through film piracy. We’re
talking about huge sums that are channelled away from the industry and into the pockets of 
criminals. The film industry doesn’t have to sit back and take it. All major UK film and
television companies are members of Fact
 — 
 
it’s a non
-profit organisation that helps detect
and stop film and TV piracy.”
The court was told that the couple set up surfthechannel.com in October 2007. It was found tobe linked to more than 80 illegal film download and streaming websites. The site had analphabetical catalogue of blockbuster films, cartoons and music videos linking to otherwebsites, not operated by the couple, where people could access the content free of charge.Broome said surfthechannel. com (STC) linked itself to overseas websites such as Youku and
Megavideo. “It made it loo
k like STC was streaming the films but, in fact, he was stealing the

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