Wednesday 15 August 2012

“A very British miscarriage of justice" ?

Torrent freak reports that Anton Vickerman, the owner of TV streaming links site SurfTheChannel, has been sentenced to four years custody at Newcastle Crown Court  after being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud for “facilitating” copyright infringement under the Criminal Justice Act.  But there the story starts to get interesting: behind the prosecution was FACT, the Federation Against Copyright Theft, the UK based anti-piracy group and FACT Director General Kieron Sharp told reporters "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. The Guardian reported that SurftheChannel had 400,000 users each day at its peak and Vickerman made £35,000 as month from the site. The site hosted no content as such, but linked to both legal and illegal content elsewhere.

However, Mr Vickerman is somewhat upset about the investigation FACT conducted - and he claims FACT, a UK limited company, stepped in when the CPS declined to prosecute, and collected a vast amount of data not only on his own activities, with SurfTheChannel and his personal financial affairs, and also collected data on his wife (who had also been charged but cleared) and on his parents, both pensioners. According to Vickerman, on one occasion a private investigator posed as a prospective house buyer to film inside Vickerman's house.

In a long long blog on his website which begins "My name is Anton Vickerman and I am the proud owner of the now dead video search engine (STC). By the time you read this I will be starting my new life behind bars after receiving what is expected to be a “loony sentence” from Judge John Evans of Newcastle Crown Court for running my site from 2007 to 2012". Vickermans mounts a very detailed defence for his activities, and highlights what he sees as FACT's failings, although I should point out (as Mr Vickerman does himself) that he even appealed FACT's methods to the Supreme Court (with no joy). There are some fairly extraordinary allegations of shenanigans in the Court of Appeal and by FACT's legal team, as well as a conspiracy between the content industries, the legal profession, the police and the judiciary; but if you have the time and the energy, Mr Vickerman's blog is (at least) interesting, not least as to FACT's proactive approach to the case.

I am grateful to my good friend Cass Williams for alerting me to this link to background on the case on Out-Law here and TorrentFreak's take here , and you can read more on the Guardian here and make up your own minds on Mr Vickerman's musings here .

For comparisons from the UK's criminal courts see the 'Oink' case here  (a 'not guilty' verdict on charges of conspiracy to defraud), the "TV-links" case here (again 'not guilty' after HH Judge Ticehurst ruled that TV-Links was entitled to “mere conduit” protection under Section 17 if the European E-Commerce Directive 2000 and could not be held to account for the infringing material it linked to, and a CDPA claim also failed) and TorrentFreak comments on both here - and the TVShack (Richard O'Dwyer) case here  - and Iona's recent review of the US court's position on linking here 

 Apart from Oink, Do you think they all had the same graphic designer?

UPDATE  David very kindly added a transcript of HH Judge Evans Sentencing Remarks in the comments section - the link is here  and is now (when I looked on the 21st August) no longer online.


Francis Davey said...

The most unattractive element of the whole affair - in my view - was the use of "conspiracy to defraud". We really need to see the last of it. If there are specific forms of conduct (whether including Mr Vickerman's or not) which are to be unlawful, then they should be straightforwardly set out in statute.

The problem with "conspiracy to defraud" is precisely its protean nature.

David said...

The view of the judge, to balance that of the "accused"

Unknown said...

UPDATE David very kindly added a transcript of HH Judge Evans Sentencing Remarks in the comments section - the link is here and is now (when I looked on the 21st August) no longer online.

Your link to the sentencing remarks does not work. I f you wish to use the following link. I have uploaded the file to a publicly accessible area on this MOJ site.