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Old 15-08-12, 01:44   #1
 
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Update Streaming Site Owner Jailed- Ladybbird is Mad!

SurfTheChannel Owner Sentenced to Four Years in Jail

* Ernesto, torrent freak
* August 14, 2012


The owner of TV streaming links site SurfTheChannel was sentenced to four years jail-time at Newcastle Crown Court today. Anton Vickerman was previously found guilty of conspiracy to defraud for “facilitating” copyright infringement . The landmark case follows a sting operation by the MPAA, who partnered with the UK Federation Against Copyright Theft to obtain evidence against the site operator.

In 2010, SurfTheChannel.com was among the most-visited streaming link websites on the Internet. The site had more than 400,000 visitors a day who were mostly looking for popular TV-shows.

The website was a thorn in the side of the UK and US entertainment industries who went to extremes to bring the site down. Among other things, the MPAA and FACT hired an undercover agent to gain access to the defendants’ house under false pretenses.

The case eventually went to trial in May and today a judge at Newcastle Crown Court sentenced 38-year old site owner Anton Vickerman to four years imprisonment. Vickerman’s wife faced the same charges but was found not guilty in June.

Today’s sentencing marks the first time that the owner of a linking website has been found guilty of conspiring to defraud the entertainment industry.

A previous attempt at making the same charge stick against the owner of the OiNK BitTorrent tracker failed during 2010.

Although SurfTheChannel did not store any copyrighted material itself, the site did organize links to copyrighted streams on third-party sites. According to the prosecution, the website was making at least £35,000 a month.

The UK Pirate Party is deeply concerned by the sentencing.

“The way this issue was investigated, prosecuted and the resulting sentence are, 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 Vickers had been charged with online copyright infringement,” party leader Loz Kaye says.

“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 offence of “conspiracy to defraud”. This offence is incredibly controversial in English law as it criminalises conduct by two or more parties that would not be criminal when performed by an individual,” he added.

The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), the local anti-piracy group which played an essential role in the investigation, is delighted on the other hand.

“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,” FACT Director General Kieron Sharp says.

“The sentencing indicates the severity of the offenses committed and the sophistication of [Vickerman's] 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.”

The MPAA previously noted that it would use the sentencing of Vickerman to support the extradition process of TVShack owner Richard O’Dwyer. While the two sites were indeed comparable, the crucial difference is that O’Dwyer is not charged with fraud but copyright infringement.

That said, the sentencing today definitely spells trouble for UK-based website owners who operate similar streaming sites.
END

I have to say I am so very very angry about this....4 years in jail for this?????

Do you know that murderers in the UK can get out of jail after only serving 7 years!!!

Pedophiles that commit gross indecency against a child under 14 yrs old can only receive a maximum sentence of only 2 YEARS -

How SICK & TWISTED the UK's legal system is

Oh Sorry, the US and the luvvies of Hollywood are MUCH more important than a child!!!
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Old 15-08-12, 20:03   #2
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Default Re: Streaming Site Owner Jailed- Ladybbird is Mad!

This whole thing is tricky dicky being played out in court. The sad truth is that conservative law (as it always is) hasn't kept up with technology. The laws don't fit the new circumstances.

So if streaming tv shows is such a crime, show me the difference between streaming and cruising the internet? Links? Nope can't be that, the internet doesn't function without links. Showing something not on your computer? Nope, that is what the internet does. Making a copy? Nope, the internet does not function without making a copy to put on your computer of what you wish to see. TV shows? You can get them over the air on publicly broadcasted channels for free. So what does it matter how far the reception extends?

If reception range were the issue, what would you say about a radio station set up to purposely broadcast subversive ideas into other countries? You know, like Radio Free Europe or Radio Havana, or even the notorious Hanoi Jane?

The whole business here smacks of two things. One is the law being hopelessly outdated. The other is vested interests trying to control something that isn't all that controllable. This is a scape goat setup to take the heat, nothing more.
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Old 15-08-12, 23:04   #3
 
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Default Re: Streaming Site Owner Jailed- Ladybbird is Mad!

Quote:
Originally Posted by photostill View Post
This whole thing is tricky dicky being played out in court. The sad truth is that conservative law (as it always is) hasn't kept up with technology. The laws don't fit the new circumstances.

So if streaming tv shows is such a crime, show me the difference between streaming and cruising the internet? Links? Nope can't be that, the internet doesn't function without links. Showing something not on your computer? Nope, that is what the internet does. Making a copy? Nope, the internet does not function without making a copy to put on your computer of what you wish to see. TV shows? You can get them over the air on publicly broadcasted channels for free. So what does it matter how far the reception extends?

If reception range were the issue, what would you say about a radio station set up to purposely broadcast subversive ideas into other countries? You know, like Radio Free Europe or Radio Havana, or even the notorious Hanoi Jane?

The whole business here smacks of two things. One is the law being hopelessly outdated. The other is vested interests trying to control something that isn't all that controllable. This is a scape goat setup to take the heat, nothing more.

Exactly, but so grossly unfair to all the families that have had children abused, or lost loved ones that were murdered.

As a Brit, I am ashamed of the justice system in the UK.
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Old 15-08-12, 23:57   #4
 
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Angry Court Docs-Stream Site Owner Jailed-Ladybbird is Mad!

Movie Studios Compiled Scary Private Life Dossier On SurfTheChannel Owner

15 Aug 2012, Ernesto


Anton Vickerman, the owner of TV streaming links site SurfTheChannel, was sentenced to four years jail-time at Newcastle Crown Court yesterday after previously being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud for “facilitating” copyright infringement.

The background investigation into the case was carried out by the Hollywood-funded, MPA-affiliated, UK anti-piracy group Federation Against Copyright Theft. FACT has no official powers and is a limited company in the UK, but as this article will reveal it has a surprising level of influence when it comes to obtaining information.

Before being sentenced Vickerman arranged that for his side of the story to be posted on the SurfTheChannel website. In close to 20,000 words he describes the past five years as a “very British miscarriage of justice.” In addition to the story Vickerman also posted an archive containing evidence to back up his claims.

Among other things, the archive contains a FACT document headlined ‘Operation Stemp – Subject Profile: Anton Vickerman’, which is a dossier of information the FACT Intelligence Unit compiled on the SurfTheChannel admin, his family, and his associates.

The document begins by stating that Vickerman is believed to be the operator of two “torrent sites” – surfthechannel.com and snarf-it.org, both of which “sell copyrighted material”. It follows with Vickerman’s home address, notes that his wife lives with him, lists the make, model and license plate of her car, and indicates she was being watched as long ago as May 2008.

According to FACT, Vickerman worked on the famous Suprnova.org torrent site and used several aliases including FD, Shadow, Serious, Casper and Ben Vickerman. But from here things start to get more intimate.

In the next section of the profile FACT conduct a “Financial Analysis” of Vickerman, noting that he had previously defaulted on seven credit agreements.

And then, just when people in the UK might incorrectly presume that their finances are a private affair, FACT notes that Vickerman had two standing loans being paid back at the rate of £209 per month and goes on to describe the details of his mortgage, how much he pays each month, and the fact that he and his wife never missed a payment.




The data gathering continues to include the personal details of Anton Vickerman’s mother and father who are both pensioners.
Kelly Vickerman, Anton’s wife, was described as having two bank accounts and a credit card (with £1,025 outstanding) and an account with the comms provider BT. Initially FACT had considered that an account might have been held with comms provider BSKYB so wrote to the company asking for information – FACT apparently have “an agreement” with BSKYB to obtain information.




BSKYB responded back saying no accounts were held at the Vickerman’s address




As noted earlier, FACT incorrectly described streaming links site SurfTheChannel as a BitTorrent site, but they go even further when justifying the need to conduct surveillance on the Vickermans.


The documents go on to list the reports provided by FACT’s private investigators as they track Vickerman up and down the country during and after his meeting with a movie industry undercover operative in a London hotel. They also list requests to use covert filming techniques when an operative posed as a potential housebuyer. Part of the operative’s report and filming is shown below.




The depth of the investigation and the amount of information obtained by FACT on the Vickermans is quite remarkable. The data and correspondence collated runs to dozens of pages but perhaps what is most noticeable is the manner in which everything is presented. The whole thing looks like a police operation yet it was not – it was an investigation being carried out by a UK company on behalf of other companies in the United States.

But for FACT and their Hollywood paymasters overseas, the effort will have been worth it. Four years in jail for Anton Vickerman is a very aggressive punishment and what could yet prove to be a significant deterrent to others looking to follow in his footsteps. The MPAA will be very pleased with their investment this morning, there can be little doubt about that.
END

The more I read about this, the angrier I get.

They dont do that much investigation/surveillance to catch pedos do they
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Old 16-08-12, 00:27   #5
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Default Re: Streaming Site Owner Jailed- Ladybbird is Mad!

Quote:
Originally Posted by photostill View Post
This whole thing is tricky dicky being played out in court. The sad truth is that conservative law (as it always is) hasn't kept up with technology. The laws don't fit the new circumstances.
This is so true. The Law will always be behind the Eight Ball because it (the Law) cannot afford to step on "The Peoples Rights".
So if streaming tv shows is such a crime, show me the difference between streaming and cruising the internet? Links? Nope can't be that, the internet doesn't function without links. Showing something not on your computer? Nope, that is what the internet does. Making a copy? Nope, the internet does not function without making a copy to put on your computer of what you wish to see. TV shows? You can get them over the air on publicly broadcasted channels for free. So what does it matter how far the reception extends?
Adverts pay for the Free TV, and the Stations need people to be watching their station so as to get a High Number of Viewers so they can get, and charge the big dollars for, Advertisements. Free Streaming TV shows on the Net does away with this View Number Count that all stations need.
If reception range were the issue, what would you say about a radio station set up to purposely broadcast subversive ideas into other countries? You know, like Radio Free Europe or Radio Havana, or even the notorious Hanoi Jane?
Maybe these Stations will offer better stuff then what is currently on the Air LOL
The whole business here smacks of two things.
One is the law being hopelessly outdated. Yes it is
The other is vested interests trying to control something that isn't all that controllable. It is Not Totally Controllable but they don't want to control all of it Just the bits that effect them.
This is a scape goat setup to take the heat, nothing more.
This is normal behaviour within our society, not only of todays society but also that of our forefathers, and I will say it GOD himself.
As I said above Thats the way the Pendulum Swings.
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Old 16-08-12, 01:01   #6
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Default Re: Streaming Site Owner Jailed- Ladybbird is Mad!

Quote:
Anton Vickerman, the owner of TV streaming links site SurfTheChannel, was sentenced to four years jail-time at Newcastle Crown Court yesterday after previously being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud for “facilitating” copyright infringement.

The background investigation into the case was carried out by the Hollywood-funded, MPA-affiliated, UK anti-piracy group Federation Against Copyright Theft. FACT has no official powers and is a limited company in the UK, but as this article will reveal it has a surprising level of influence when it comes to obtaining information.

Before being sentenced Vickerman arranged that for his side of the story to be posted on the SurfTheChannel website. In close to 20,000 words he describes the past five years as a “very British miscarriage of justice.” In addition to the story Vickerman also posted an archive containing evidence to back up his claims.

Among other things, the archive contains a FACT document headlined ‘Operation Stemp – Subject Profile: Anton Vickerman’, which is a dossier of information the FACT Intelligence Unit compiled on the SurfTheChannel admin, his family, and his associates.
And where could I find a link to all of this Info' LBB as I to would like to read more.
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Old 16-08-12, 01:47   #7
 
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Default Re: Streaming Site Owner Jailed- Ladybbird is Mad!

Quote:
Originally Posted by BaZZa101 View Post
And where could I find a link to all of this Info' LBB as I to would like to read more.
Live links are not allowed on this site and most others too, but the source is in the first post & you can always check it out on the Pirate Party's site and their comments on this. That is also mentioned in post 1
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Old 16-08-12, 16:59   #8
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Default Re: Streaming Site Owner Jailed- Ladybbird is Mad!

I would like to call attention to something else in the article about Anton Vickerman's investigation.

My first question, is why are non-official police style investigations being done by outside interests? Especially when those outside interests start with the assumptions you are guilty and they have a strong, not impartial, bias in setting up that premise as established fact in the evidence. What is chosen to be revealed and what is actually uncovered are not always the same and is why non-bias should always be doing the investigating.

My second question is this. The state (as in a functioning entity to give authority to a police unit) is not doing the footwork they are supposed. Why are police investigators not investigating? That is their job. It's their purpose in life is to determine what the facts are or are not, in relation to if there is even enough evidence to have a hearing over it or whether there is no truth to accusations. When you depend on someone else to bundle the facts for you; were they actually facts? I remind you in this that every month at a minimum you hear all of these studies, in which the common knowledge is that all the claims are blown out of proportion to reality. Only the ones that support their position are made public to some degree. Those that don't support their stance are never brought into public knowledge. Given that, can you trust these claims of evidence?

Let me add further that the domain seizure of DaJaz1, waited beyond the legal limits by ½ again as much time as allowed by law to hold property in seizure, waiting on the RIAA to deliver the goods on evidence. The whole proceedings were sealed by the judge at the request of ICE so that the defending lawyer could not obtain any claimed evidence, could not verify that ICE sought an extension to the seizure, or even obtain the name of the judge that sealed it to verify any facts at all. The RIAA never, despite multiple calls and emails, returned answers to ICE, never provided the evidence to support their claims of infringement on the site, and it seems once the site was off line, their goals had been accomplished. Is there any reason not to believe the same thing is happening here, since it has already shown it will do this type of actions and then not produce the evidence backing their claims.

This is why lawyers must be a graduate of BAR exam. There are certain standards in a court of law that must be observed for all involved. I serious doubt the investigating team has a law license. You can hire ex-cops. That doesn't mean their qualifications are still current. In fact, most likely they are not.
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Old 16-08-12, 17:40   #9
 
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Default Re: Streaming Site Owner Jailed- Ladybbird is Mad!

Quote:
My first question, is why are non-official police style investigations being done by outside interests? Especially when those outside interests start with the assumptions you are guilty and they have a strong, not impartial, bias in setting up that premise as established fact in the evidence.
Exactly,,,,words of wisedom PS, can you imagine how much it all cost too? Unbelievable!
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Old 17-08-12, 12:14   #10
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Default Re: Streaming Site Owner Jailed- Ladybbird is Mad!

Well I stated my reasons on why the whole thing could reasonably be suspected to be a bias investigator, only to find the rest of the story today.

Private justice: How Hollywood money put a Brit behind bars
by Timothy B. Lee

Anton Vickerman, 38-year old owner of the once popular link site surfthechannel.com (STC), was sentenced to four years in prison on Tuesday by a British judge. But the prosecutors sitting across the courtroom from him didn't work for the Crown—they were lawyers for the movie studio trade group Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT).

FACT, not public officials in the UK, was the driving force behind Vickerman's prosecution. Indeed, FACT effectively took on the role of a private law enforcement agency. Private investigators hired by FACT first identified Vickerman as the administrator of STC and built the case against him. His assets were frozen at FACT's request by a government agency—which was itself funded by FACT. And when the UK's public prosecutors decided not to press charges against Vickerman at all, FACT initiated a criminal prosecution on its own dime.

This is a new development for anti-piracy efforts. Organizations like the MPAA, RIAA, IFPA, and FACT have long lobbied law enforcement officials to prosecute "rogue sites" and have provided them with information and logistical support to do so. But public prosecutors generally have the final say on who will be indicted. In the Vickerman case, the public prosecutors concluded that there wasn't enough evidence to merit prosecution. FACT disagreed and invoked what one lawyer told us is an "archaic right" for a private organization to bring criminal prosecutions against other private parties.

Vickerman posted a lengthy testimonial to his site after he was convicted. In it, he describes FACT as a lawless conspiracy to shut down his site for the benefit of competing video sites, and he portrays Judge Evans as an "imbecile" who didn't understand the legal issues in the case. While many of the accusations seem overwrought, Vickerman did include a cache of documents that came out during his trial. From them we can paint a clear picture of just how far one private party was allowed to go in its bid for justice.

FACT confirmed the authenticity of the court documents for us but declined to get into the specifics of Vickerman's account—arguing that his conviction by a jury of his peers speaks for itself.

Surfthechannel.com grew rapidly—so rapidly that it soon came to the attention of Hollywood. The site hosted no videos, but its meticulously organized collection of links made it popular with those seeking infringing content. And plenty of people were interested. At the site's peak in mid-2009, STC attracted hundreds of thousands of users per day, earning Vickerman up to £50,000 ($78,500) per month in advertising revenue.

FACT wanted to shutter the site, but first it had to find out who was running the thing. Vickerman had kept a low profile, registering the domain through an anonymizing service and purchasing server space offshore. Undeterred, FACT hired an investigator named Pascal Hetzscholdt to pose as a potential investor who lured Vickerman to a London hotel on July 10, 2008. While the two ate lunch, a surveillance team recorded the encounter from a nearby table. Investigators working for FACT then tracked Vickerman back to his home 250 miles north of London in Gateshead.

The contents of that lunch discussion are disputed. Vickerman insists that he "did not discuss anything whatsoever about movies, illegality, or other such matters." Hetzscholdt has a different recollection. In a report filed after the meeting, he stated that Vickerman discussed plans to "experiment with using the BitTorrent network as the infrastructure to offer popular current films through STC." The whole thing was recorded, so the truth should have been a simple matter to verify—but FACT says that no audio of the meeting exists, making it impossible to check Hetzscholdt's story. Vickerman suspects foul play.

"I am firmly of the belief that such an audio recording did exist but that it was 'disappeared' by FACT Ltd due to it containing nothing controversial," he wrote.

FACT soon discovered that the home Vickerman shared with his wife was for sale. So, two days after the London meeting, another FACT agent posed as a potential buyer in order to access the residence. The agent covertly recorded the home walk-through and filed a detailed report on the operation.

Meanwhile, FACT was busy collecting other information about Vickerman. The group asked the satellite provider BSkyB for information about the couple's satellite TV subscription, for instance. An investigator tailed Vickerman's wife Kelly on a day's errands. The Guardian reports that "other private eyes had already obtained detailed information about his bank accounts, cars, and telephone records." FACT was nothing if not thorough.

On August 18, 2008, Northumbria police raided the Vickermans' home. Vickerman says that FACT agents participated in the raid and that they were "clearly directing the police." A FACT spokesman declined to comment to us on this allegation, but court documents do indicate that FACT was heavily involved in planning the raid. FACT, for instance, hired the forensic investigator used in the case.

In an e-mail sent a week prior to the raid, FACT's Colin Tansley outlined a plan for FACT's investigators to take down STC and replace it with a seizure notice. Vickerman says this plan failed because FACT believed, inaccurately, that the STC servers were located inside Vickerman's house. (The servers were actually located in Sweden, beyond the reach of FACT and the Northumbria police.) When we asked, FACT again refused to comment on Vickerman's allegations.

During the search, Vickerman and his wife were both arrested. Vickerman told both police and FACT investigators that the STC site was, in his view, legal; it acted "as a search engine" and was exempt from liability, he said.

The Vickermans were soon released on bail, but the other shoe was about to drop. Their cash was about to be seized.

Asset freeze

Two weeks later, on September 1, investigator Alan Connolly from the Bedfordshire Trading Standards Financial Investigations Unit showed up at the Vickermans' home. He knocked on the front door and presented them with an "asset restraint order," which the unit had taken out at FACT's request. Vickerman claims that he and his wife were then barred from accessing any of their funds, aside from £125 per week, per person, to cover living expenses. As a result of the order, Vickerman says that he "started to default on my bills and rapidly started spiraling into severe financial problems."

The Bedfordshire Trading Standards Financial Investigations Unit (BTSFIU) has a grandiose name but a strange history—and it's hardly the impartial agent of government justice its name might suggest. A statement on the agency's website explains that, in 2007, the "Bedfordshire Trading Standards Service was approached" by FACT and "offered a unique sponsorship opportunity" to create the Financial Investigation Unit. With FACT's generous support, the BTSFIU was soon able to focus on conducting piracy-related property confiscations.

Indeed, so deep is the partnership that, on the form used to request an asset confiscation, the agency states that "priority will be given to those referrals that involve cinematic piracy." Vickerman says he filed a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed that "BTSFIU had made 23 similar restraint order applications in 2008, all on behalf of FACT."

In a Tuesday interview, FACT spokesman Eddy Leviten brushed off any suggestion that the financial ties between FACT and the BTSFIU created a conflict of interest, however.

"The banking industry in the UK funds the check and credit bureau in the Metropolitan Police," he told us. "It's something that happens in the UK where private industry can fund specific units within law enforcement to take on a specific role. Those units still have to withstand the same scrutiny" as any other law enforcement agency. We e-mailed two BTSFIU agents seeking comment on the relationship but never got a response.

Unable to spend his own funds on legal representation, Vickerman borrowed money from his father to hire an attorney who challenged the asset freeze. According to Vickerman, "It turns out it is unlawful for BTS to act outside of Bedforshire County," so the asset freeze was cancelled about a month after it had been put into place.

And the news got even better for Vickerman. It soon emerged that the government had no interest in charging him with a crime. Indeed, the government wasn't even convinced he had committed one.

"I cannot advise any prosecution"

Vickerman was referred to Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the arm of the UK government responsible for criminal prosecutions. CPS chose not to prosecute him, explaining its decision in a letter dated December 12, 2008.

"I understand that the investigation into the suspects was prompted by FACT and in effect this is an enquiry that has been undertaken almost entirely by FACT although with the assistance of the Northumbria Police," the letter explained. The CPS prosecutor then continued:

I understand from [Northumbria Detective Constable] Watkin that there have been no other successful prosecutions that he is aware of where we could point to this type of website being classified as amounting to "making available... by electronic transmission," the legal standard needed to find Vickerman guilty of copyright infringement. At present it appears uncertain if in fact what the suspect has done does infringe this particular legislation. Certainly on the evidence thus far provided it is impossible for me to determine if this is the case and therefore I cannot advise any prosecution on the evidence presented.

CPS also pointed to additional problems with prosecuting STC. "It is obvious that this suspect does not put copyrighted material on the Internet itself," said the letter. "His 'crime' is to make it easier for others to find what is already there. This begs the rather obvious question of why he is being pursued rather than those who actually breach the copyright by displaying the material."

The agency also wondered whether there are "civil law remedies available perhaps including an injunction to close offending websites down," and if those remedies existed, why they weren't being pursued. (Such civil process has been used in the US to shut down Napster, Grokster, LimeWire, and many others, though such cases have been less successful in the UK.) CPS also noted that "such well established sites as YouTube occasionally fall foul of copyright and that they are not prosecuted in the manner suggested here."

The letter concluded that "the evidence provided is too vague to establish what actual offences are alleged and thus I cannot advise any charge at this stage."

It sounded like the end of the case, and in most cases would have been—but FACT badly wanted Vickerman in jail and was willing to do the work itself if necessary.
Going it alone

In the United States, public prosecutors generally have the power to decide when criminal prosecution is appropriate. Eleanor Lackman, a copyright attorney at the New York firm of Cowan DeBaets, Abrahams, and Sheppard, told Ars that "criminal liability generally is only prosecuted by government entities" such as the Department of Justice. A private party can request a copyright prosecution—as in the Megaupload case—but the final decision rests with the government.
Enlarge / Vickerman outside the courthouse with an unidentified companion.
The Daily Mail

United Kingdom law differs. There, private parties can initiate criminal prosecutions if they're willing to cover the costs out of their own pockets. FACT was, and so it bypassed CPS and brought criminal charges against Vickerman directly. "It is now our intention to run a private prosecution," FACT's Colin Tansley wrote in an e-mail to his colleagues on December 12, 2008.

Litigation dragged on for years. Vickerman charges that FACT withheld key documents from him, including the CPS letter recommending against prosecution, that he says would have bolstered his case. Indeed, he became so concerned with FACT's conduct that he actually petitioned government prosecutors to take over the prosecution. The request was rejected.

"In July 2010, the stress and strain of the nightmare we have endured for nearly two years finally breaks our marriage," Vickerman wrote. "Myself and my wife separate. FACT Ltd's decision to charge my wife as well, despite them knowing she has no involvement in STC, has bore them fruit." But to FACT, and even to the judge in the case, the problems and the prosecution were of Vickerman's making.
"You didn't bother to check with the copyright owners"
The trial finally commenced in May 2012. Vickerman was optimistic because he thought he had a key precedent on his side. In its 2008 letter, CPS noted that "FACT are currently involved in a prosecution of others involved in a similar website known as tvlinks." By the time the STC case reached trial in 2012, another judge had ruled that TV-Links had not infringed copyright.

But a jury found Vickerman guilty of "conspiracy to defraud" (rather than of facilitating copyright infringement) and the judge pronounced sentence. In his Tuesday remarks, Judge Evans made a curious reference to the TV-Links case, saying that Vickerman "pressed on, knowing that TV-Links had been taken down following the intervention of FACT on the basis that what it had been doing was unlawful."

Of course, the courts, not FACT, determine what is and isn't unlawful—and the courts had ultimately found that TV-Links had not violated the law. Judge Evans seems to have believed that FACT's simple accusation of unlawful conduct should have been sufficient basis for Vickerman to shut down his website.

"Your arrest and the interviews that followed did not act as any kind of warning about the criminal activity in which you were engaged or as any sort of barrier to the continued operation of STC," Judge Evans said. "With an arrogance of a kind that you displayed repeatedly during your evidence at the trial you carried on as before and indeed only shut down STC days before this trial began in May."

In March 2009, Judge Evans said, STC had two million links, of which "in excess of 5,500 links" were to infringing movies. "You insisted that you couldn't know if it was infringing copyright, that the studios might have granted right holder licences to the films of which you had no knowledge," Judge Evans said. "That was certainly true and bound to be true if you didn't bother to check with the copyright owners and check you most certainly didn't."

Vickerman places blame for his conviction squarely at the feet of Judge Evans. "We were about to enter a parallel universe in which there were two prosecutors, FACT Ltd and Judge Evans," Vickerman wrote in his Tuesday statement. It was a universe "in which the Judge had no grasp of the Internet or copyright law and in which evidence that would never have normally made it up the courtroom steps due to its dodginess was readily accepted as factual here.... I was surprised to find that I was more upset about the way FACT Ltd had won rather than the actual fact that they had won."

But Evans was having none of it. "You demonstrate a complete absence of remorse," he told Vickerman. "In the trial, you levelled criticism of virtually everyone involved in this investigation. You would not countenance, and it’s evident from your demeanor now that you still do not countenance, the idea that you were doing anything wrong. I’m bound to say that in all the years I’ve worked in this court I have never encountered arrogance of the kind that you displayed during the trial... The vast majority of the material made available through that website infringed copyright."

The privatization of justice

Ars sought comment from David Cook, a solicitor who successfully defended the operators of two other websites against criminal charges: OiNK and FileSoup. Those cases were formally handled by CPS rather than private groups, but even so Cook regarded the degree of industry involvement as "an abuse of the Court process as a result of the involvement of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) at all stages of the investigation and subsequent prosecution."

Those cases, he said, were "brought by the CPS, with the trade bodies malevolently lurking in the shadows but with their fingerprints all over the evidence." In the STC case, by contrast, the industry dispensed with the "lurking" and drove the case itself from start to finish. Cook describes the right of private parties to initiate criminal prosecutions as "archaic."

He argues that the ability of private companies to bring criminal charges opens the door to abuses. For example, Cook questions whether it is right for the "police to be able to use the powers that are specifically bestowed to them to seize a person’s property, only to then decide not to do anything themselves and simply pass the material to an 'interested third party'" like FACT. (Cook concedes that this transfer of evidence was ruled legal by a UK appeals court.)

FACT's Leviten disagreed. He told us there's a "rich historical precedent" for private parties bringing criminal prosecutions. He compared FACT to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which brings criminal animal welfare cases. Private criminal prosecutions, he said, are "part of the democratic system in the UK."

But Cook worries that the "enormous financial resources and clout" of organizations like FACT, and the lack of public oversight of their activities, could deprive defendants of a fair trial.

"There is no doubt that copyright holders deserve the full protection of the law," he told me. "But I still think that the manner in which they conduct these prosecutions is offensive."
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