A collaborative raid between a half-dozen global law enforcement agencies has struck what may be a fatal blow to one of the world’s biggest piracy outfits. Agents at the Southern District of New York (SDNY) announced on Wednesday that three individuals have been arrested and charged with copyright infringement as part of the sting. The broader target of the raids was the Sparks Group, an international piracy ring accused of illegally distributing movies and television shows on the Internet since at least 2011.
According to the indictments unsealed yesterday in Manhattan federal court, the three fraudulently obtained copyrighted DVDs and Blu-Ray discs from wholesale distributors in advance of their retail release date, using “various misrepresentations” to different distributors in Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and British Columbia, Canada. The trio then allegedly cracked the digital rights management protection on hundreds of movie and television shows before distributing the files across peer-to-peer networks, streaming websites, torrent networks, and other publicly-accessible servers. According to Correa’s indictment, the group also tagged the works with the names of other groups including “drones,” “rovers,” “gecko,” and “sprinter.” Sources have told Torrent Freak that the coordinated global raids triggered “turmoil” across the piracy scene this week, forcing interconnected group members to go into hiding. “The defendants were members of an international video piracy ring that was sophisticated and widespread,” acting SDNY Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement. “Thanks to the efforts of HSI, the Postal Inspection Service, Eurojust, Europol, and our law enforcement partners in 18 countries on three continents, key members of this group are in custody, and the servers that were the pipeline for wholesale theft of intellectual property are now out of service.” SDNY accused the trio of causing “tens of millions of dollars” in harm to the entertainment industry. All three have been charged with copyright infringement and conspiracy, charges that carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Bridi was also charged with wire fraud conspiracy and conspiracy to transport stolen property interstate, charges that carry a maximum penalty of 20 and 5 years in prison, respectively. Bridi, a UK resident, was arrested last Sunday in Cyprus by Interpol, and is awaiting extradition to the United States. Correa was arrested on Tuesday in Olathe, Kansas, and will soon appear in federal court. Ahmad, a citizen of Norway, was indicted but currently remains at large.
“This investigation shows—in high definition—that despite the online platform and international nature of this scheme, we are committed to stop those who use the cyber world for illicit gain,” Homeland Security Special Agent-in-Charge Peter Fitzhugh said of the arrests.