A British man who ran a website that linked to pirated videos—but didn’t host any—has been sentenced to four years in prison.
Anton Vickerman, 38, founded the website Surfthechannel, which for five years provided links to pirated content on file locker sites like Megavideo. He wasn’t charged with actually violating copyright, but rather “conspiracy to defraud,” for “facilitating” copyright infringement.
Unlike many shuttered domains, Vickerman has control of his old URL. A visit to surfthechannel.com shows a chilling message he’s left behind.
“By the time you read this I will be starting my new life behind bars,” Vickerman wrote.
He tells a tale of being stalked and deliberately mislead by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), a private “content protection” group partnered with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Hollywood lobbying group that’s responsible for pushing stronger copyright laws around the world.
Among Vickerman’s claims:
- A private investigator named Paul Varney followed Vickerman’s wife, Kelly, around the grocery store and followed her home. He later came to the Vickermans’ open house, posed as a prospective buyer, and filmed the inside of their house.
- An MPAA employee, under a false name, met Vickerman in London, pretending to be part of an investment firm interested in Surfthechannel to get details on its operations.
- A police officer named Colin Tansley who worked for FACT for a year asked Virgin Broadband to tap Vickerman’s phones.
Neither the MPAA nor FACT has responded to the Daily Dot’s request for comment on or denial of Vickerman’s claims.
Vickerman’s sentence is short of the maximum sentence of ten years. His former wife, Kelly Vickerman, faced the same charges but was found not guilty.
A spokesperson for FACT, Kieron Sharp, told the BBC that the charges against Vickerman were justified.
"This was not a passive search engine. Surfthechannel was created specifically to make money from criminal activity and it became the biggest site of its kind on the Internet within two years.”
"The sentencing indicates the severity of the offences committed and the sophistication of his criminal enterprise and should send a very strong message to those running similar sites that they can be found, arrested and end up in prison."
In his final words written on his site, Vickerman was defiant:
They may be able to lock my body up but my mind is free, my will is strong and my spirit will never be beaten. It’s going to take more than a few years in prison to beat me. If my story does nothing else than raise public awareness about FACT Ltd. and their outrageous and continuing abuse of power then my time inside will be worth it.
Photo via @surfthechannel