UK movie pirate guilty plea
November 19, 2021
By Colin Mann
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, has confirmed the guilty plea of George Bridi, a citizen of the United Kingdom, for his role in the Sparks Group, an international piracy group that illegally distributed movies and television shows on the Internet. Bridi pleaded guilty November 18th before US District Judge Richard M. Berman.
“As he admitted in court today, George Bridi participated in an international video piracy ring that illegally distributed worldwide on the Internet nearly every movie released by major production studios, as well as television shows,” reported Williams. “Bridi circumvented copyright protections on DVDs and Blu-Ray discs to illegally share movies online, but he and his crew could not evade law enforcement scrutiny, and Bridi now awaits sentencing for his crime.”
As alleged in the Indictment and statements made in open court:
- Between 2011 and the present, Bridi 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. Sparks Group members then 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.
- 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 prior to their official release date. Bridi 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.
Bridi pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The maximum potential sentence is prescribed by Congress; any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Bridi is scheduled to be sentenced on January 20th, 2022.
Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of Homeland Security Investigations and the US Postal Inspection Service. Williams 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.