The complex tactics employed by a gang of internet fraudsters who made copies of blockbuster films to swindle Hollywood out of millions of pounds have been heard in court.
Kieron Sharp, director general of FACT, said the sentencing marked the first time a release group had been criminally prosecuted. Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Minister for Intellectual Property added:
"The illegal copying and distribution of films has real consequences for the film industry and consumers."
The men's sentences:
Rafiq, 25, of Warnford Walk, received four years and five months
Baker, 23, of Dalmer Close, Castel Bromwich, received four years and one month
Reid, 41, of Kings Clear Walk, received three years and five months
Cooper, 34, Dilloways Lane, received three years and five months
Hemming, 27, of Perry Common, received a two-year suspended sentence.
All five have admitted conspiracy to defraud, in that on diverse dates between March 1, 2010 and January 1, 2014, they conspired together, and with others unknown, to defraud by making, copying, distributing or making available on line infringing copies of films.
Together, they were part of a plot to have resulted in copies of up to 9,000 films being watched by as many as five million people in less than four years.
Prosecutor David Groome, representing the Federation Against Copyright Theft, told the court of the great lengths the group went to in order to conceal their identity, and the variety of ways they went about obtaining and distributed copied films.
He said: "These men either founded or were part of what are known as 'release groups'.
"They obtain copies of films, and then work on them before releasing Torrent versions.
"Security is quite high in British cinemas but, in some countries abroad, it is not so.
"Quite often release groups will receive what's known as a CAM - a video recording of a film from the back of a cinema. "They will then get rid of the foreign audio, and edit in British audio which
they have obtained using a concealed dictaphone at a British cinema."
He added: "Film companies have a 'watermark' style security mechanism in place for cinema films to stop piracy.
"But some members of this group have 'de-dotted' films, in order to protect the identity of the people who provide them with the copies. "Quality can also be edited to get a high quality copy.
"Another method they have used is to copy DVD's. Discs normally have software installed to prevent people copying them, but there is another type of software to disable this, which was used.
Mr Groome told how Rafiq's release group, named '26K', was found to have uploaded 885 films on four Torrent sites which were checked.
"It is impossible to tell how many times the films they have uploaded have been distributed online.
"We looked at four websites, where 885 films uploaded from 26K were found.
There are hundreds of Torrent websites. "They didn't do it for money, more to earn street cred. They were after kudos for being the first or the best at providing Torrent films." Rafiq ran the 26K group after previously working for DTRG, and specialised in releasing CAMS of films before the official release dates.
He also uploaded DVD rips.
Mr Groome added: "It is the prosecution's case that this crime hasn't just cost the film companies money, it has affected all people working directly or indirectly, from cinemas screening the films right down to people working in shops that sell DVD's."
On February 1 2013, the UK’s Federation Against Copyright Theft revealed they had joined police officers from the Economic Crime Unit to carry out raids at several addresses in central England.
As Hollywood’s enforcement arm in the UK, FACT were searching for five individuals believed to be behind several prolific and interrelated movie release groups. After a three year investigation, they finally
had their men.
Graeme Reid, 40, from Chesterfield, Scott Hemming, 25, and Reece Baker, 22, both from Birmingham, Sahil Rafiq, 24, of Wolverhampton and Ben Cooper, 33, of Willenhall, were all arrested and questioned at
By January 2015 all had broadly pleaded guilty to charges of Conspiracy to Defraud.
However, the extent of the infringement claimed by FACT in their private criminal prosecution was far in excess of that accepted by the accused.
The numbers behind the prosecution
In order to come to a figure on losses, FACT appear to be relying on data presented publicly by ExtraTorrent, one of the world’s leading torrent sites. According to FACT the defendants were jointly responsible for around 4.2 million illegal downloads on ExtraTorrent alone.
The anti-piracy group will then take the average price of attending a cinema in the UK or buying a DVD or Blu-ray disc. Arriving at a figure convenient for all options, FACT will presume that the defendants’
actions “put at risk” at least £52,000,000 in studio revenues on ExtraTorrent alone.
Graeme Reid - 41, of Kings Clear Walk, received three years and five months
FACT alleged that Reid was the founder and leader of ‘RemixHD’, a release group that specialized in DVD and Blu-ray rips. The anti-piracy group will also state that Reid had connections with another famous
group known as ‘UNiQUE’. FACT accused Reid of causing more than 1.1 million illegal downloads,although the anti-piracy group insists this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Value of property “put at risk” – £11m - Actual loss claimed – £1.1m.
FACT alleged that Baker used several online identities and was initially a member of a release group known as DTRG. Baker left DTRG to found a new group called HOPE which was later named to RESISTANCE. FACT claim that Baker also operated DEYA and was involved in sourcing, encoding and uploading movies.
It is understood that Baker was accused of causing more than 226,000 illegal downloads on ExtraTorrent but was also involved in distributing other content alleged to be worth £15m.
Value of property “put at risk” – £17m - Actual loss claimed – £1.7m
Sahil Rafiq (pictured above) 25, of Warnford Walk, received four years and five months
According to FACT, Rafiq was also a member of DTRG who went on to become the brains behind release group 26K. He was accused of collaborating with the other defendants in sourcing, encoding and uploading movies to torrent sites.
Ben Cooper (above), 34, Dilloways Lane, received three years and five months
It is believed that FACT alleged that Cooper founded two release groups known as ANALOG and TCM. It’s also claimed that he participated in HOPE alongside Reece Baker. FACT will allege that Cooper is to blame for more than 150,500 illegal downloads. Value of property “put at risk” – £1.5m - Actual loss claimed – £150,000.
Scott Hemming (pictured above) 27, of Perry Common, received a two-year suspended sentence.
Was accused of torrenting around 800 movies which together were downloaded a minimum of 2.6 million times. Value of property “put at risk” – £26m - Actual loss claimed – £2.6m.
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