The owner of Surfthechannel, a website which linked to content on the likes of Megavideo and Tudou, has been sentenced to four years in jail for a “conspiracy to defraud.” FACT is celebrating, but most other people are questioning the sense in such a verdict.
Surfthechannel was once a site linking out to other sites on the Web hosting video content. Some of this content was legit, some was not, but Surfthechannel only ever linked to the places where it was being hosted. Which many felt would protect it from any legal troubles.
Not so. Several years ago the police raided the owner’s house accompanied by anti-piracy group FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft). While the police dropped the case, FACT did not, embarking on a private prosecution for “conspiracy to defraud.”
The owner of the site, Anton Vickerman, was found guilty by a jury and has now been sentenced to a jail term of four years. His wife Kelly was found not guilty. Vickerman sold advertising on the site, and it’s claimed he made thousands of dollars each month.
The director general of FACT said of the conviction:
“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 offenses 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.”
But while FACT is obviously celebrating, many others are calling the verdict into question. This case does seem to go against the grain, in that someone has been sent to jail for merely linking to copyrighted material. As has been said before, if that’s a crime then Google should be shut down.
This verdict comes hot on the heels of the myVidster appeal which saw a judge rule that embedding copyright-infringing videos cannot possibly be considered illegal. One was a clear victory for common sense, the other is clearly the opposite.
Interestingly the “conspiracy to defraud” charge was the same brought against the people behind both OiNK and TV-Links, neither of which were successful. So either Vickerman was just plain unlucky or there’s a crackdown taking place on this kind of thing.
Whatever the truth there is now someone doomed to spend several years in prison for merely linking to copyrighted content hosted on other sites. Which doesn’t sit well with many people who understand the difference.
[Via BBC News]
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