The owner of Surfthechannel.com, a website hosting links to pirated films and TV shows, has been sentenced to four years in prison at Newcastle Crown Court.
Anton Vickerman, 38, from Gateshead, created the website in 2007. Within two years of being established, the site attracted more than 400,000 visitors a day, ranking it in the top 500 websites globally, according to the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT).
Vickerman was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud by “facilitating” the infringement of copyright on 27 June 2012, after an eight-week trial.
He ran the website as a business through a company, Scopelight Ltd, and was generating income of more than £300,000 a year. The company’s profits were channelled to a bank account in Latvia, operated by an offshore company in Dominica.
Although Surfthechannel did not host any media files on its site, FACT said that the site was “not a passive linking or search site”.
Vickerman targeted pirated and not yet released films that he and his staff secretly and anonymously uploaded to third-party sites, before linking to them from Surfthechannel.
He also encouraged the website’s community to find, check and add links, FACT said.
Vickerman and his wife were arrested after FACT and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) hired a private investigator who took photos of his home and computer equipment in July 2008, after pretending to be interested in buying the property, which led to a police raid.
The jury found his wife, Kelly Vickerman, not guilty, however.
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.
“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.”
He added: “The sentencing indicates the severity of the offences committed and the sophistication of this 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.”