Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Website operator jailed for four years for conspiring to defraud copyright owners

Out-Law News | 15 Aug 2012 | 12:27 pm | 1 min. read

A man who ran a popular website that provided links to pirated content hosted elsewhere on the internet has been sentenced to four years in jail.

Newcastle Crown Court had found Anton Vickerman guilty of conspiracy to defraud by “facilitating” the infringement of copyright in June, according to the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) which brought the prosecution.

Vickerman set up the SurftheChannel (STC) website in 2007 and made more than £300,000 a year from advertising revenues generated through the popularity of the site. At its peak the site attracted more than 400,000 visitors a day and was ranked as one of the top 500 websites in the world.

"The site was not a passive linking or search site," FACT said in a statement. "Vickerman targeted pirated films including those not yet released at the cinema which he and his staff secretly and anonymously uploaded to third party sites before linking to them via STC. Members of the surfthechannel community were also encouraged to find, check and add links, ensuring that surfthechannel was always one of the most up to date databases of illegally copied material anywhere on the internet."

Under the Criminal Justice Act a person is guilty of conspiring to defraud if that person "agrees with any other person or persons that a course of conduct shall be pursued and that course of conduct will necessarily amount to or involve the commission of any offence or offences by one or more of the parties to the agreement if the agreement is carried out in accordance with their intentions". The maximum term of imprisonment for the offence is 10 years, a fine, or both.

"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," Kieron Sharp, FACT director general, said. "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."

"The sentencing indicates the severity of the offences committed and the sophistication of his criminal enterprise and should send a very strong message to those running similar sites that they can be found, arrested and end up in prison," Sharp added.

Vickerman has claimed that he is the victim in a miscarriage of justice and that his business had been legitimate.