Exceptionally Troubling Ruling In The UK: Owners Of Links Site Guilty Of 'Conspiracy To Defraud'

from the how-so? dept

We've written about the entertainment industry's overly aggressive legal campaign against the owners of SurfTheChannel -- a linking site -- before. Almost exactly three years ago, we wrote about how the private UK anti piracy group, FACT, had helped set up the raid on the offices of Scopelight, a startup creating search technologies. This wasn't a typical police raid: FACT (again, a private organization representing private companies) was allowed to come along for the raid. Scopelight built SurfTheChannel as a search engine that could find video. Some of that video was authorized, some of it was not. However, the two founders, a husband and wife team, Anton Benjamin Vickerman and Kelly-Anne Vickerman, were arrested after this raid and charged with "conspiracy to defraud." Note that they were not charged with copyright infringement. If "conspiracy to defraud" sounds familiar, it's the same vague law that was used against the owner of OiNK (unsuccessfully), against the owner of tv-links.co.uk (also unsuccessfully), and also against the creators of Mulve (don't know what happened to that case). Considering how this has failed in two key cases before, and it didn't look like SurfTheChannel was any different, it seemed unlikely to work here either. And, in fact, there were other serious problems with the case, including the issue that FACT itself (again: private organization) was given the Vickermans' computers.

Unfortunately, however, the court has found Anton guilty of "conspiracy to defraud" for which he faces 10 years in jail. 10 Years. His wife was found not guilty. Of course, FACT and other entertainment industry interests are cheering this on as a huge victory, and promising to use this to stifle all kinds of useful innovation... er, go after any other site they consider to be "pirate" sites, even if those sites have perfectly legitimate and non-infringing uses. The broadness of the law, and the vague and contradictory standards with which it has been applied in the UK should be exceptionally worrying to people -- especially those in the UK. It is no longer safe to try to create a useful service to help people find entertainment content, because you may get raided, private companies may get your computers and you may end up in jail. London has been building itself up as a tech/startup hub of Europe, but with rulings like these, don't be surprised to see entrepreneurs move elsewhere.

Filed Under: anton benjamin vickerman, conspiracy, kelly-anne vickerman, surfthechannel, uk
Companies: fact, oink, scopelight, tv-links


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  1. icon
    John Bland (profile), 29 Jun 2012 @ 12:39am

    • You guys really need to read it from someone who was at the trial:
    http://surfthechannelfraudtrial.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/5/
    Highlights:
    *Judge leaves jury little choice after directing as a matter of law that knowingly linking to infringing content is illegal despite no such offence in the UK;

    *Judge ignores SportsRadar High Court judgement that states if an infringement takes place it takes place in the country the server is based (linking to infringing content legal in Spain where SurfTheChannel was based);

    *Judge states “if I have got the law wrong then a higher court than this one will sort it out”;

    *FACT Ltd staff admit to “around 15 surveillance operations a month” carried out on UK citizens but say “we are a private company so don´t have to abide by the Regulatory Investigatory Powers Act”;
    *Pascal Hetzscholdt admits that senior MPAA personnel including John Malcolm contacted NBCUniversal to pressure them into terminating A&E Television Networks partnership agreement with SurfTheChannel;
    *Jury not told of DeBeasi´s ownership of paedophile site “JailBaitBox.com” which contained images of “girls under the age of consent that you want to fuck” according to DeBeasi´s blog;
    *Vickerman provides unchallenged evidence that Anti-Piracy company´s, in particular Aiplex Software, are responsible for automated adding of around a million links to the STC website.

    In addition, at the beginning of the trial, the Private Prosecutors (MPAA/FACT) sought and were granted a Public Interest hearing with the Judge. This private cozy 3 hour session excluded the defendents and their lawyers. After that session the judge's hostility towards the defendents increased quite dramatically. Any quesses as to what they discussed in private?

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