Surfthechannel owner faces jail after copyright conviction

The Simpsons The Simpsons was one of more than 5,000 films and programmes available through the site

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The owner of Surfthechannel.com has been convicted after "facilitating" copyright infringement.

Anton Vickerman will be sentenced next month after being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, at Newcastle Crown Court. The maximum penalty for his crime is 10 years in jail.

His site used to host some of the UK's most visited web pages offering links to illegally copied streaming videos.

Anti-piracy campaigners say it proves such sites can be brought to justice.

Mr Vickerman's wife was found not guilty of the same charges.

Undercover agent

The Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) - whose members include film and TV distributors from across the world - said that at its height in 2009 Surfthechannel.com attracted more than 400,000 visitors a day, generating more than £35,000 in advertising revenue a month.

It said users had been encouraged to find, check and add links to help keep the site up to date.

Fact hired an undercover agent to confirm Mr Vickerman was running the site, who visited the suspect's house without revealing their true identity.

They confirmed Mr Vickerman had designed the "front end" of the service and recruited others via the internet to look after its "back end" functions.

"Mr Vickerman set up Surfthechannel with the aim of it being one of the world's top destinations for pirated films and TV programmes," said Kieron Sharp, Fact's director general.

"This was a criminal conspiracy for criminal profit to fund a criminal lifestyle and Vickerman is now paying the price."

Legal alternatives

The British Video Association also welcomed the verdict.

"Increasing numbers of British consumers are moving to legitimate online services that offer films and TV programmes in high quality for rental or sale," said its director general Lavinia Carey.

"These businesses are relatively new and should not have to compete against pirate websites.

"The verdict in this trial makes it evident to all that copyright theft will not be tolerated and that such sites are criminal operations."

However, the UK's Pirate Party - a political group that wants to want to legalise non-commercial file-sharing - said it found the verdict worrying.

"The interest groups involved couldn't present a case of copyright infringement and instead decided to press for the use of the common law offence of conspiracy to defraud," said its leader Loz Kaye.

"It criminalises conduct by two or more people that would not be criminal when performed by an individual. The offence was notoriously used in the 1970s to prevent people sharing film cassettes... until Hollywood realised they were better off embracing the new technology."

Mr Vickerman, from Gateshead, is due to be sentenced on 30 July.

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