Shy fraudster who pocketed almost £300k from his 'sophisticated' film-streaming website jailed for four years
A social recluse who cost the film and television industry an estimated £120m has been jailed for four years in the largest case of its kind in Northern Ireland.
Paul Mahoney (29) from the Carnhill area of Londonderry pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to defraud, relating to the infringement of copyright in films, and money laundering.
The charges cover a five-year period from April 2008 to April 2013 during which Mahoney was estimated to have earned £280,000 from advertising on the pirate website he set up and run from his bedroom.
During the 25 minutes that Judge Phillip Babington took to sum up the main points of the complex case at Londonderry Crown Court, Mahoney sat in the dock with his head bowed throughout and showed little interest in proceedings.
Outlining the facts of the case, Mr Babington recalled how Mahoney created and operated websites that allowed people to view films and television programmes for free.
Despite the entire operation being run from his bedroom, a prosecution QC described it as a "highly sophisticated fraud".
Mahoney was even making films showing in the cinema at the time available to his viewers. Occasionally users could see movies that had not yet been released through his site called 'Bedroommedia'.
During the joint investigation between the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) and the PSNI, a total of £292,500 was seen to be credited to Mahoney's bank accounts.
Of this £280,000 was from advertising revenue and around £12,500 was unemployment benefit payments from Social Security over a six-year period.
The court was told that once the defendant was aware he was making money from his piracy operation, he stopped claiming benefits and the judge accepted this.
Detectives searching Mahoney's home in May 2011 found a total of £82,390 in cash which had been concealed in a number of places throughout the property which was seized.
Before ordering court security to take Mahoney down to the cells, Mr Babington told him his offences had "affected everyone in society".
He added: "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 you to make money from advertising.
"The organisation of your websites was cunning and clever and when you were first detected you took moves to continue your illegal work and further cover up what you were doing."
Imposing a jail term of four years on Mahoney, two of which will be served in prison and two on licence after release, Mr Babington added: "Criminal conduct of this nature must be deterred and this court imposes immediate sentences of imprisonment so as to show that behaviour of this nature does not go unpunished."
Listening intently to Mr Babington was Fact director general Kieron Sharp, who told reporters outside the court that he was "not disappointed at all" in the sentence handed down.
Mr Sharp said: "There needs to be a deterrent message sent out to others who take part in this type of crime. The industry is determined to make sure that people don't take the product that they spend hundreds of millions of pounds on for free.
"It is a widespread practice.
"There are people right across the world who are looking to obtain film and television content without paying for it and our responsibility is to look for those people and prosecute them where possible."
PSNI Detective Inspector Conor McStravick from reactive and organised crime branch, said: "This is not a victimless crime. The film industry is an important and growing employment sector in Northern Ireland.
"Illegal activity which reduces revenue streams to the industry has the potential to adversely affect people's jobs and the local economy."