Four year prison sentence for illegal website owner

A website owner who created and ran one of the world’s most popular pirate websites has been sentenced to four years imprisonment today at Newcastle Crown Court.

Anton Vickerman, age 38, set up the website surfthechannel in 2007 with the aim of being a ‘one stop’ destination for illegal copies of films and television programmes. Within two years the site was attracting more than 400,000 visitors per day, ranking amongst the top 500 websites globally.

Vickerman ran surfthechannel as a business through a limited company, Scopelight Ltd, and was generating income of over £300,000 per year. Profits from the company were funnelled to a bank account in Latvia operated by an offshore company based in Dominica.

He was found guilty at Newcastle Crown Court of Conspiracy to Defraud by “facilitating” the infringement of copyright on 27th June 2012 after an eight week trial.

The site was not a passive linking or search site. 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.

Kieron Sharp, FACT Director General, said,

“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.

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.”

Lord Puttnam of Queensgate CBE, President of Film Distributors’ Association, said:

“It is vital that the production and distribution of films and programmes in the UK continues, delivering a positive contribution to the UK economy and supporting the livelihoods of thousands of people.

This case can leave no one in any doubt that internet piracy is controlled by criminals whose profits threaten the ongoing reinvestment in our creative industries.

Copyright theft and infringement are part of the rising tide of cyber-crime, which is why the intelligence-led work of FACT is so crucial; I’m delighted that FDA and others continue to fund and support it.”