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Brit extradited to US on movie piracy charges

September 2, 2021

By Colin Mann

George Bridi, a citizen of the UK, has been extradited to the US from Cyprus on charges of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, wire fraud conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property, for his involvement in the Sparks Group, an international piracy group that illegally distributed movies and television shows online.

Bridi was arrested on August 23rd 2020, in Paphos, Cyprus. Bridi will be presented and arraigned on September 1st before US Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang. Codefendant Jonatan Correa, a/k/a ‘Raid’, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and was sentenced on May 19th 2021, to three years and three months of supervised release, with the first three months to be served in community confinement. Codefendant Umar Ahmad, a citizen of Norway, remains at large. The case is assigned to US District Judge Richard M. Berman.

“As alleged, George Bridi was a member of an international video piracy ring that circumvented copyright protections on nearly every movie released by major production studios, as well as television shows, and distributed them worldwide on the Internet,” advised US Attorney Audrey Strauss. “Thanks to the assistance of our law enforcement partners, the piracy ring has been busted and Bridi is now in US custody.”

According to the allegations contained in the Indictments:

  • Between 2011 and the present, Umar Ahmad, a/k/a ‘Artist’, George Bridi, Jonatan Correa, a/k/a ‘Raid’, and others known and unknown were members of the Sparks Group, a criminal organisation that disseminated on the Internet movies and television shows prior to their retail release date, including nearly every movie released by major production studios, after compromising the content’s copyright protections.
  • In furtherance of its scheme, the Sparks Group fraudulently obtained copyrighted DVDs and Blu-Ray discs from wholesale distributors in advance of their retail release date by, among other things, making various misrepresentations to the wholesale distributors concerning the reasons that they were obtaining the discs prior to the retail release date.
  • Sparks Group members then used computers with specialised software to compromise the copyright protections on the discs, a process referred to as ‘cracking’ or ‘ripping’, and to reproduce and encode the content in a format that could be easily copied and disseminated over the Internet. They thereafter uploaded copies of the copyrighted content onto servers controlled by the Sparks Group, where other members further reproduced and disseminated the content on streaming websites, peer-to-peer networks, torrent networks, and other servers accessible to public. The Sparks Group identified its reproductions by encoding the filenames of reproduced copyrighted content with distinctive tags, and also uploaded photographs of the discs in their original packaging to demonstrate that the reproduced content originated from authentic DVDs and Blu-Ray discs.
  • Ahmad and Bridi arranged for discs to be picked up, mailed, or delivered from distributors located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey to other members of the Sparks Group, including Correa, prior to their official release date. Ahmad, Bridi, and Correa then reproduced, and aided and abetted the reproduction of, these discs by using computer software that circumvented copyright protections on the discs and reproducing the copyrighted content for further distribution on the Internet.

The Sparks Group has caused tens of millions of dollars in losses to film production studios.

On August 26th, 2020, in coordination with law enforcement authorities in 17 countries and supported by Eurojust and Europol, dozens of servers controlled by the Sparks Group were taken offline around the world, including in North America, Europe, and Asia. The Sparks Group utilised these servers to store and disseminate copyrighted content illegally to members around the globe.

Bridi, 50, is charged with copyright infringement conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison; wire fraud conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison; and conspiracy to transport stolen property interstate, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Strauss praised the outstanding work of Homeland Security Investigations and the US Postal Inspection Service. She also thanked Europol and Eurojust as well as law enforcement authorities in the following countries for their assistance in the investigation: Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Republic of Korea, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Violent and Organized Crime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Andrew K. Chan, Mollie Bracewell, and Christy Slavik are in charge of the prosecution. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs (OIA) of the Department’s Criminal Division provided significant and ongoing assistance with facilitating the execution of dozens of mutual legal assistance requests in 18 different countries necessary for taking down servers and gathering evidence. OIA also provided critical support in working with Eurojust and Europol in planning the coordinated operation in August 2020 and provided critical assistance in securing the defendant’s extradition from Cyprus.

The charges contained in the Indictments are merely accusations, and Bridi and Ahmad are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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