belfasttelegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Internet download pirate jailed

Anton Vickerman has been jailed for running an illegal website which allowed people to download films and TV shows

An internet pirate who made up to £60,000 a month from his site which allowed people to download TV shows and films has been jailed for four years.

Anton Vickerman's surfthechannel.com attracted 400,000 visitors a day at its peak and was close to the top 500 most popular websites at its peak.

The site cost the film industry tens of millions of pounds, and ultimately huge loses to the Inland Revenue, the prosecution said. It provided links to films, sometimes before they were released in cinemas. Volunteers searched the net for links and moderators checked the titles were usable.

Vickerman, 38, originally from Gateshead whose latest address was Citygate, Newcastle, valued the site at 400,000 US dollars (£255,000) when he offered it for sale in 2008. Over two years the site, run via the former DJ and BT employee's firm Scopelight, turned over £1m with a profit of £250,000, Newcastle Crown Court heard.

He was jailed after being convicted of two counts of conspiracy to defraud in June. Judge John Evans told him: "Ultimately films will not be made if the producers cannot make them at a profit."

Ari Alibhai, prosecuting, said Vickerman made between £12,000 and £60,000 a month from advertising on his site. He said: "It is clear that the website, due to its popularity, was accruing hundreds of thousands of pounds."

He said in July 2008 surfthechannel.com was listed 514 in an index of most popular websites. Mr Alibhai said it was more popular than Facebook at the time. And he said that it was impossible to calculate the losses it caused the film industry.

Vickerman's wife Kelly, who had faced the same charges, was cleared by the jury. The court was told that since then their relationship had broken down due in part to the stress of the case. David Walbank, defending, said the case had also left Vickerman financially ruined.

He said: "You know a great deal about him and know that he has already paid a great deal. It has left him financially ruined and he currently owes about £50,000 in contributions. He is personally insolvent and the likelihood is that he will be declared bankrupt."

Judge Evans branded the defendant the most arrogant he had encountered in his career, and said Vickerman knew full well what he was doing was unlawful, despite his protestations of innocence. The judge said film producers could exploit their products how they wished, and it was "difficult to comprehend" how Vickerman thought he was entitled to do so, "given you had not contributed a penny" towards making them.

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