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This article was published on June 27, 2012

Filesharing site owner found guilty in Newcastle as penalties for sites get serious

Filesharing site owner found guilty in Newcastle as penalties for sites get serious
Jamillah Knowles
Story by

Jamillah Knowles

Jamillah is the UK Editor for The Next Web. She's based in London. You can hear her on BBC Radio 5Live's Outriders. Follow on Twitter @jemi Jamillah is the UK Editor for The Next Web. She's based in London. You can hear her on BBC Radio 5Live's Outriders. Follow on Twitter @jemimah_knight or drop a line to [email protected]

The owner of Surfthechannel, formerly one of the world’s most visited sites for links and streaming was found guilty of fraud today at Newcastle Crown Court.

Anton Vickerman and his wife Kelly stood on trial, Vickerman was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud while facilitating the infringement of copyright, his wife was found not guilty on the same charges. The site was not hosting illegal material but pointed to it, hence ‘facilitating’.

The court heard that Vickerman was making $50,000 a month from advertising running on the site. Surfthechannel attracted around 400,000 visitors a day and participants were encouraged to post and check links to places where access to pirated material could be found.

According to a report on the ChronicleLive website, Vickerman designed the site and hired programmers who run the rest. The report says that these programmers were asked to break security on third-party websites hosting illegal copies of films.

The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) says that Vickerman ran the website through a limited company called Scopelight which was running profits through bank account in Latvia.

On TorrentFreak, Ernesto notes that there was “the use of an undercover agent to gain access to the defendants’ house under false pretenses, the case also witnessed the unprecedented involvement of US authorities in a UK court case, in which a defendant in the US was offered a deal after agreeing to cooperate and testify in a trial overseas.”

These types of sites are taking a lot of heat at the moment. The penalties can be harsh to say the least, so much so that tech leaders have been weighing in on the topic.

Earlier this month, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales started a petition asking David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Theresa May to stop the extradition of Richard O’Dwyer.

O’Dwyer faces extradition to the US from the UK and a possible ten-year prison sentence for creating TVShack, a site that also points to places where people can find TV and movies.

Wales’ description on the petition notes:

America is trying to prosecute a UK citizen for an alleged crime which took place on UK soil. The internet as a whole must not tolerate censorship in response to mere allegations of copyright infringement. As citizens we must stand up for our rights online

Wales is not the only tech giant to get involved in the debate around file sharing. Earlier this week, Apple co-founder  Steve Wozniak spoke out on the case of Kim Dotcom and Megaupload. He said that the case against Dotcom is “Hokey”.

Naturally there are two sides to the ongoing saga of access and copyright when it comes to streaming online.

Kieron Sharp, FACT Director General, said:

“These are landmark criminal convictions proving that those operating pirate websites are not outside the law but can be tracked down and brought to justice. Mr Vickerman set up surfthechannel with the aim of it being one of the world’s top destinations for pirated films and TV programmes and was making at least £35,000 a month from the site alone. This was a criminal conspiracy for criminal profit to fund a criminal lifestyle and Vickerman is now paying the price.”

The methods for watching streamed TV and film online are getting better, there are a number of sites including Netflix, LoveFilm, MUBI for film and most TV networks now provide a service like Channel 4 OD or the BBC’s iPlayer.

But while there is still technology to step around copyright, while there are still companies blocking the online release of material with hold-back rights, it is doubtful that services like Surfthechannel and TVshack will disappear altogether.

Indeed Kim DotCom already seems to be working on a comeback with as he posted a teaser on Twitter baiting music labels about something called ‘Megabox’.

 Image Credit: Horia Varlan

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