U.S. prosecutors on Wednesday announced charges against three men alleged to be behind an international video piracy ring, as law enforcement authorities around the world took down dozens of servers being used to store and distribute copyrighted movies and television shows.
The enterprise, known as the Sparks Group, fraudulently obtained copyrighted DVDs and Blu-Ray discs from wholesale distributors and disseminated them online before their release dates, according to indictments unsealed Tuesday in New York.
Operating from 2011 to 2020, the group caused tens of millions of dollars in losses to major movie production studios, according to the indictments.
The alleged leaders were identified as Umar Ahmad, George Bridi and Jonatan Correa.
Ahmad, a citizen of Norway, remains at large. Bridi, a British national, was arrested Sunday in Cyprus. The U.S. is seeking his extradition. Correa was arrested Tuesday in the U.S. state of Kansas.
The three men were each charged with one count of copyright infringement conspiracy. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Bridi faces two additional charges.
The case underscores how far video piracy has come from the days when fraudsters bootlegged movies in theaters and then sold cheap, low-quality copies on the streets of New York, officials said.
“The movies and TV shows allegedly stolen by these defendants not only represent a body of work ripped off from those who spent years developing their craft and working their way to stardom, but deprives the studios and actors of the fruits of their labor,” Inspector-in-Charge Philip R. Bartlett of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service said in a statement.
Once the copyrighted DVDs and Blu-Ray discs were obtained from distributors in New York and New Jersey, the men allegedly used specialized software to crack their copyright protections and to reproduce them for easy copying and distribution over the internet.
“The group allegedly circumvented copyright protections on nearly every movie released by major production studios, as well as television shows, and distributed them by way of a worldwide network of servers,” acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.