Federation Against Copyright Theft
The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) is an intelligence-led organisation established in 1983 to protect and represent the interests of its members' intellectual property (IP). Regarded as the leaders in IP protection, FACT also investigates fraud and cybercrime, and provides global due diligence services to support citizenship investment and trade, business, financial and legal compliance.
FACT actively works to tackle crime and support the IP industry by investigating and taking action against illegal content providers, as well as educating consumers about the risks of engaging with piracy and illegal content. FACT's partnership with Crimestoppers UK allows for the reporting of crime and illegal activity anonymously.
In June 2009, FACT brought a groundbreaking criminal prosecution against the company Scopelight and its founder, Anton Vickerman, for running a pirate video search engine called Surfthechannel.com, which had a substantial user base and was a highly profitable illegal business. FACT commenced a private criminal prosecution, which required access to all the evidence in the custody of the police. Action taken by Scopelight's owners to prevent the evidence being given to FACT was rejected at the Court of Appeal (Scopelight & Ors v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police & Federation Against Copyright Theft  EWCA Civ 1156) where the Court judgment made clear the legality of providing evidence to support a private prosecution.
Vickerman was charged with two counts of Conspiracy to Defraud and a criminal trial took place at Newcastle Crown Court in June and July 2012 in front of His Honour Judge Evans.
After a seven-week trial, the jury found Anton Vickerman guilty and he was sentenced to four years' imprisonment on each charge of Conspiracy to Defraud, sentencing to run concurrently.
The importance of this case was how it demonstrated that existing laws are applicable when investigating criminality that takes place only online.
Subsequently, Vickerman was ordered to pay £73,055.79 within six months or face a further prison sentence under proceeds of crime legislation.
In 2011 access to the Usenet indexing website Newzbin was blocked by BT and Sky following legal action in the UK by Hollywood film studios. FACT provided the evidence for this case which resulted in the eventual closure of the site in 2012.
FACT conducted an investigation into the freelivefooty site and supplied evidence to Thames Valley Police who arrested the principal Gary. The site illegally streamed Premier League matches and charged viewers a price that undercut the official broadcaster, Sky. Gary used a satellite dish, seven computers and nine satellite decoders to run the freelivefooty website from his home.
He was prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service in 2013 and, on conviction, he received a six-month prison sentence suspended for two years and was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work. He was found guilty of one count of communicating a copyrighted work to the public in the course of a business contrary to S.107 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. An accomplice, Bannister, was ordered to carry out 140 hours of unpaid work after he was found guilty of transferring criminal property contrary to S.327(1)(d) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
FACT described this case as "groundbreaking, proving conclusively that operating a website that rebroadcasts copyrighted works without permission is a criminal offence".
In May 2013, Philip Danks attended the Showcase cinema in Walsall and used a camcorder to record Fast and Furious 6 on the day of its release. Danks uploaded this copy online and the film was subsequently downloaded more than 700,000 times, causing significant revenue loss to Universal Pictures. FACT identified Danks by linking him to the online name of the uploader, which was TheCod3r. Five days after the recording was made Danks was arrested by West Midlands Police. Wolverhampton Crown Court heard that despite his arrest Danks continued to copy, sell and distribute illegal copies of films. He also enlisted the help of his sister's ex-boyfriend, Michael Bell, who uploaded films on his behalf.
Both men pleaded guilty to charges of committing offences under the Fraud Act 2006 and the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Danks was sentenced to 33 months' imprisonment. Bell received a 12-month Community Order with 120 hours unpaid work.
In 2014, in the largest case of its kind in Northern Ireland, FACT and the Police Service of Northern Ireland led an investigation into Paul Mahoney who ran a website from his bedroom which enabled visitors to find streaming links to films hosted on third party websites. Mahoney generated money by charging for advertising on his website. Mahoney pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiracy to defraud, one of acquiring criminal property and one of converting criminal property. He was sentenced to four years' imprisonment.
In 2015 FACT undertook an investigation that led to the first prosecution of a 'release group'. Five suspects distributed illegally recorded copies of films online while they were still being shown in cinemas.
The five, who went under several online aliases including 'memory100', 'Cheese', 'Reidy', 'Cooperman' and 'Kareemzos', all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and were sentenced to a total of 17 years' imprisonment.
First sentencing in IPTV boxes case in England
In 2016 a FACT-supported investigation led to the first criminal case involving a supplier of illegal IPTV boxes enabling viewers to watch unauthorised content. Terry O'Reilly and Will O'Leary were selling devices to pubs and consumers which facilitated mass piracy, including the broadcasting of Premier League football on unauthorised channels.
Both defendants were convicted of conspiracy to defraud. O'Reilly was sentenced to four years' imprisonment. O'Leary received a two-year suspended sentence.
First 'card sharing' conviction in Scotland
In 2017 Gavin Gray pleaded guilty to four charges of fraud and offences under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, following a multi-agency operation involving FACT. Gray illegally sold old decryption codes for premium Sky TV channels, including Sky Sports and Sky Movies.
Gray was the first person to be convicted of card-sharing in Scotland. He was given a 12-month Restriction of Liberty Order, a Community Payback Order and was told to complete 300 hours of unpaid work. He also received a confiscation order for £128,670.
Fake DVD sellers jailed
Following an investigation by Suffolk Police and FACT in 2017, three men were jailed for a total of 10 years and seven months. Frankie Ansell, his cousin Lee Ansell, Howard Davey and Joseph Plant managed a sophisticated counterfeit DVD business over a two-and-a-half-year period, selling over 31,000 DVDs worth more than £500,000.
Frankie Ansell was sentenced to 45 months' imprisonment, Lee Ansell and Davey were both sentenced to 41 months’ imprisonment. Plant received a 16-month sentence suspended for two years and was ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.
A married couple illegally made £750,000 by selling more than 8,000 illicit streaming devices and running a service that provided illegal access to Premier League football. In 2018, following a FACT-assisted case the owner of the company Evolution Trading, Jon Haggerty, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and dishonestly obtaining services for another. Haggerty was sentenced to five years and three months' imprisonment. His wife, Mary Gilfillan, was convicted of fraud offences and given a two-year suspended sentence.
Three men provided illegal access to Premier League football to more than 1,000 pubs, clubs and homes throughout England and Wales and used a range of technologies to commit fraud over the course of a decade. Trading under the names Dreambox (unincorporated), Dreambox TV Limited and Digital Switchover Limited, the fraudulent companies earned in excess of £5m through illegal activity.
Following a FACT-assisted Premier League investigation, this case saw some of the longest sentences ever issued for piracy-related crimes. In 2019 Steven King, who masterminded the fraud, was sentenced to seven years and four months' imprisonment. Paul Rolston was sentenced to six years and four months’ imprisonment and Daniel Malone was sentenced to three years and three months' imprisonment.
As part of ongoing investigations at Bovingdon Market by Hertfordshire Trading Standards in 2020, supported by FACT, two men were found guilty of encouraging consumers to obtain services dishonestly, contrary to the Serious Crime Act 2007 and the Fraud Act 2006. The jury also found Thomas Tewelde and Mohamed Abdou guilty of failing in their duty of care to ensure that the boxes were electrically safe.
Tewelde and Abdou were each sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment suspended for two years and were ordered to pay £1,000 in costs and complete 120 hours of unpaid work.
Former police officer jailed
Daniel Aimson was a police officer previously jailed in 2017 for bulk sale cannabis production. A joint operation between Greater Manchester Police and FACT found that a company managed by Aimson sold IPTV devices between September 2016 and May 2017 that allowed customers to bypass paywalls and access subscription sport and film channels for free.
In 2020 Aimson admitted conspiracy to commit fraud and was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment.
FACT has produced several adverts which have appeared at the beginning of videos and DVDs released in the UK, as well as trailers shown before films in cinemas.
During the 1990s, FACT created a 30-second to 1-minute anti-piracy warning called "Beware of Illegal Video Cassettes", reminding customers to check whether they have a genuine video and how to report questionable copies. They appeared on many different video cassettes by various home video companies. Versions for each studio depicting their respective security label (generally a hologram of the studio logo or a Disney film logo) were created, with several iterations for each as the FACT hotline number changed multiple times throughout the decade with the message "Video Piracy Is A Crime, Do Not Accept It”. The warning was placed at the beginning of most rental VHS tapes in the UK (as well as many retail tapes), similar to the FBI Warning found on tapes in the United States. CIC Video and The Walt Disney Company had a similar term, with the hologram carrying CIC logo copies. From late 1996, this warning was followed by a public information film featuring a man attempting to return a pirate video purchased from a market after discovering that the sound was garbled and the picture unwatchable, ending with the tagline "Pirate Videos: Daylight Robbery”. The "Pirate Videos: Daylight Robbery" ad was used until 2002. A precursor PIF, "Video Piracy: It's Not Worth It!" was released in 1995 and featured a young girl named Rebecca trying to watch a pirated VHS tape on a TV, ending with a VHS player falling down with the words on top: "VIDEO PIRACY. It's not worth it”.
In 2002, FACT released a PIF called "The Pirates are Out to Get You". It featured a man destroying many items with an X-shaped branding iron, ending with the FACT logo and UK, Ireland, Australia & New Zealand hotlines. The warning was placed at the beginning of practically every rental VHS tape in the UK (as well as most retail tapes), similar to the FBI Warning found on tapes in the United States.
With the advent of DVD, FACT borrowed the Motion Picture Association of America's anti-piracy spot "You Wouldn't Steal a Car", which concentrated more on copyright infringement through peer-to-peer filesharing and less on counterfeit copies. The spot related the peer-to-peer filesharing of movies to stealing a handbag, a car, and other such items (similar to the US FAST "Piracy is theft" slogan of the 1990s). More recent spots have included Knock-off Nigel, devised by the Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness, where a man is ridiculed by his friends and colleagues for buying counterfeit DVDs and downloading films from BitTorrent, along with ads that say "Thank You" to the British public for supporting the film industry by either buying a ticket and seeing a film in the cinema or purchasing a genuine DVD or Blu-ray.
- "Police can keep seized property pending private prosecution" – via www.thetimes.co.uk.
- "Surfthechannel owner sent to jail". 14 August 2012 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
- Kennedy, Rob (17 December 2014). "Gateshead movie pirate who made £1.25m must pay back £73,000". ChronicleLive.
- "BT ordered to block Newzbin2 filesharing site within 14 days". The Guardian. 26 October 2011.
- "Football stream man spared jail". 25 January 2013 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
- "Anti-piracy group Fact forces closure of large Usenet filesharing index (Wired UK)". web.archive.org. 27 April 2016.
- "Man jailed for filming in cinema". 22 August 2014 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
- "Paul Mahoney: Londonderry piracy scammer sentenced to prison". 8 September 2015 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
- McCrum, Kirstie (18 December 2015). "Online piracy ring jailed for 17 years after 'costing film industry £5 million'". mirror.
- "Man jailed for Android box fraud". Broadband TV News. 12 December 2016.
- "Man ordered to repay cyberfraud windfall". 18 September 2018 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
- Hunt, Jane. "Three men jailed for more than 10 years following pirate DVD scam". East Anglian Daily Times.
- Parsons, Jeff (16 July 2018). "Husband and wife jailed for selling 8,000 illegal streaming boxes". mirror.
- "'Dodgy' Premier League streamers jailed". 21 March 2019 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
- "Suspended prison sentences for fraudsters who sold Kodi boxes at Bovingdon Market". www.hemeltoday.co.uk.
- "PC turned drug dealer jailed for £2m Sky TV fraud". 2 June 2020 – via www.bbc.co.uk.