Online Piracy Conviction Nets SurfTheChannel Owner 4-Year Prison Sentence
August 15, 2012

Online Piracy Conviction Nets SurfTheChannel Owner 4-Year Prison Sentence

John Neumann for - Your Universe Online

Anton Vickerman, owner of SurfTheChannel, one of the UK´s most popular sources of pirated video content, has been found guilty of conspiracy to defraud in June for “facilitating” copyright infringement and sentenced to four years in jail by a UK court.

The 38-year-old Vickerman had designed the service´s pages, hiring others to source material and carry out other back-end functions, reports BBC News.

UK authorities admitted that the website SurfTheChannel did not host the video files itself, which is not even illegal in the UK, but pointed visitors to other sites including Megavideo and China´s Tudou. The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) said that at its height in 2009 the site attracted more than 400,000 visitors a day, generating more than £35,000 in monthly advertising revenue.

After raiding Vickerman´s home in 2009, the police declined to prosecute him at all, but did hand over Vickerman´s servers, financial records and mobile phones to FACT, so the rights-holder group could pursue a private prosecution over conspiracy to defraud, rather than copyright infringement, reported Josh Halliday for the Guardian.

FACT director Kieron Sharp said in a statement on Tuesday, “This case conclusively shows that running a website that deliberately sets out to direct users to illegal copies of films and TV shows will result in a criminal conviction and a long jail sentence.”

“Mr. Vickerman knew what he was doing from the outset, having been involved in the pirate community for some time. This was not a passive search engine. SurfTheChannel was created specifically to make money from criminal activity and it became the biggest site of its kind on the internet within two years.”

Vickerman´s sentence was derided by the UK Pirate Party, writes David Meyer for ZD Net. Leader Loz Kaye said the way the case was investigated, prosecuted and concluded was “deeply concerning, inappropriate and disproportionate given the activities that Anton Vickerman was engaged in.

A four-year prison sentence is twice the maximum that could have been handed down if Vickerman had been charged with online copyright infringement,” Kaye said in a statement.

“As we have said before, this was not a case brought using copyright law. The interest groups involved couldn´t present a case of copyright infringement and decided to press for the use of the common law offense of ℠conspiracy to defraud´. This offense is incredibly controversial in English law as it criminalizes conduct by two or more parties that would not be criminal when performed by an individual.”