Internet piracy scam sentence 'a warning to others'
The sentence handed down to a social recluse whose internet piracy scam put the movie industry at risk of losing £120 million should act as a warning to others engaged in such crimes, a judge said.
Paul Mahoney, 29, from Londonderry, made around £280,000 through advertising revenue generated from his illegal websites offering access to the latest films and TV shows - many before general release. During the six-year period he operated the racket, the partially-blind loner claimed around £12,000 in state benefits.
Mahoney, who was sentenced at Derry Crown Court having pleaded guilty earlier this year to a series of offences - including conspiracy to defraud the film industry, will spend two years behind bars before being released on licence for two further years.
Some £82,400 in cash was found hidden in the home where he lived with his mother when police searched the property in the Carnhill area of Der ry.
The investigation against Mahoney was led by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) in conjunction with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
Passing sentence, Judge Philip Babington branded Mahoney's scheme "cunning and clever".
"These offences represent offending of a very serious nature, which undoubtedly put at risk many millions of pounds as far as the greater entertainment industry is concerned," he said.
"Offending such as this affects everyone in society at the end of the day, although primarily the interests of those involved in film production, the results of which we all enjoy.
"You put together a very sophisticated scheme which allowed users to view films on many millions of occasions for nothing and at the same time this allowed you to make money from advertising."
The judge said such crimes had to be deterred and therefore he had no option but to send Mahoney to jail.
"Criminal conduct of this nature must be deterred and there is no alternative but that this court imposes immediate sentences of imprisonment so as to show that behaviour of this nature does not go unpunished," he added.
Mahoney, dressed in a black and white tracksuit and grey t-shirt, showed no emotion as he was led from the dock by guards.
The judge stressed that the prosecution claim that £120 million was put a risk by the operation was only an approximate estimate and further noted that the actual losses incurred by the industry would have been lower - given that people who accessed content illegally would not necessarily have paid for it legitimately if the websites had not been available.
"I am, however, quite satisfied that the amount put at risk was many millions and the actual loss would have run into several million pounds," the judge added.
Mahoney first started his fraudulent business in 2007, and over the next six years he changed his website name three further times in a bid to evade detection.
During this period, he was served with a cease and desist notice by Fact and was arrested twice by the PSNI. Despite these interventions, he continued to run the fraud.
His websites offered users links to third party servers on which illegal movie and TV show copies had been uploaded.
Mahoney also operated one of these servers himself and found content on others by using complex software which he paid criminal programmers to develop for him.
His defence team argued that Mahoney was a recluse with health and psychological problems who lived in his bedroom "24/7" and whose only companion was the internet. His lawyers insisted he was not motivated by making money.
Judge Babington acknowledged that it was unclear if the defendant was financially driven, noting he did not exhibit the features of a "lavish lifestyle".
"I am quite satisfied that you knew exactly what you were doing," he told him. "I am puzzled to a degree as to why you did it."
Director general of Fact, Kieron Sharp, was in court for the sentence hearing and welcomed the prison term.
"There is a deterrent message that needs to be sent out to others who take part in this type of crime," he said.
"The industry is determined to make sure that people don't take the product that they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars or pounds on and they don't take it for free."