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Piracy Your Rights Online

MPAA Agent Poses As Homebuyer To Catch Pirates 289

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the as-seen-on-tv dept.
bonch writes "The MPAA used an undercover agent posing as a potential homebuyer to gain access to the home of a British couple charged with running a streaming links site. UK authorities decided not to pursue the case, but the MPAA continued, focusing on a Boston programmer who worked on the site, leading to an unprecedented legal maneuver whereby U.S. charges were dropped in exchange for testimony in a UK fraud case."
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MPAA Agent Poses As Homebuyer To Catch Pirates

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  • Re:Outsourced eh? (Score:4, Informative)

    by a90Tj2P7 (1533853) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @12:03PM (#40077993)
    You can hire a private investigator. They've got people who look into cases and gather facts before taking legal action against someone. Would you rather have them waste the taxpayer's money on having a LEO do it? They may happen to be douchebags, but almost every industry's got people like insurance adjustors, inspectors or security officers who check things out in-house.
  • Re:Clarify (Score:5, Informative)

    by BeardedChimp (1416531) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @12:05PM (#40078015)
    Yeah the summary is terrible.

    In essence what happened was MPAA pretented to be a venture capitalist who was interested in the streaming site SurfTheChannel. After meeting the owner in person they followed them to their house. Then a seperate MPAA nob head posed as a home buyer interested in the owner of SurfTheChannel's house.

    The MPAA then turned over pictures of the house and details of the venture capitalist meeting to the police who proceded to raid their house. The police decided not to press charges, so the MPAA went after the US programmer who made SurfTheChannel. He did some sort of plea bargain where they would drop the case against him if he would testify against the British couple.

    The British couple are now in court on charges of fraud.

  • Re:Clarify (Score:5, Informative)

    by Baloroth (2370816) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @12:06PM (#40078031)

    It is a British couple in Britain being charged (criminally) in the UK for fraud (how they got fraud out of running a linking site I have no idea. The site was SurfTheChannel, BTW, since TFS doesn't say). Testimony is being offered by a Boston programmer who helped set up the site and agreed to testify in return for charges against him being dropped. The whole "undercover" bit was just to figure out where the couple lived: the MPAA first had someone pose as a venture capitalist interested in the site who met with the husband and tailed him back to his house, which was then snooped on by a hired PI (who posed as the homebuyer).

    FWIW I don't think the case is likely to get terribly far. Similar cases against similar sites have failed in the past, but I don't know how bad the UK justice system is so I cannot say.

  • Re:Clarify (Score:5, Informative)

    by SomePgmr (2021234) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @12:06PM (#40078035) Homepage

    MPAA hired an ex-cop to pose as venture capitalist interested in SurftheChannel.com. He learned how much the owner made from the site.

    Then he tailed him 250 miles to his home, just to find out where he lives.

    MPAA then sent a PI posing as a potential home buyer to the residence, to take pictures of the guys house, paying particular attention to the computer hardware.

    They have the house raided, and the MPAA douches are allowed to take part in the questioning. They were even allowed to investigate the confiscated equipment themselves.

    UK authorities decide not to pursue a case.

    MPAA, not to be denied, went after a programmer in the US that worked on the site. In exchange for dropping his case, he agreed to testify in the UK case and pay the MPAA $10k in go-away money.

    At least that's the take-away I got form the article. It's pretty convoluted.

  • Re:Outsourced eh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @12:45PM (#40078505) Homepage

    On a serious note, what right does the MPAA have to place 'undercover' agents?

    Title IV, Section 407 [xkcd.com] (right before the Authorization to use Deadly Force.

  • Re:Clarify (Score:5, Informative)

    by Grumbleduke (789126) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @02:54PM (#40079891) Journal

    The MPAA (through their UK minions, FACT, a "private commercial organisation, representing the interests of the audio-visual industry") did some investigating to find out who the operator of SurfTheChannel.com was. After various undercover meetings, fake deals and that sort of thing, they were able to identify the operators as a UK-based couple. Then they set the police on them.

    The police turned up, with FACT people, and arrested the couple, seizing a load of evidence, and a FACT specialist was able to copy a load of data from the computers (and may have done so illegally). While in custody the couple were interviewed with FACT people present, FACT were able to examine the evidence, and eventually most of it was handed over to them for analysis.

    Eventually, the couple were released and the CPS (who decide whether or not to bring prosecutions) decided not to charge them. The police then handed the rest of the evidence over to FACT who wanted it so they could run a private prosecution. The couple sued the police and FACT to get their stuff back (after their direct requests were refused). These facts all come from the resulting case (Scopelight Ltd & Ors v Chief of Police for Northumbria & FACT [bailii.org]) which FACT won on appeal.

    The initial arrests were in August 2008, the CPS gave up in December 2008, FACT filed their private prosecution in February 2009 and that appeal was ruled on in November 2009. This new information has come to light because that private prosecution is currently being heard in Newcastle Crown Court.

    The other major fact that emerged was that the US programmer who worked on the site was arrested by US authorities, but managed to get out of being convicted for his part in exchange for agreeing to testify in the UK case. So the US let an alleged criminal go so he could help a private, UK-based company win a private prosecution in the UK.

  • Re:Clarify (Score:5, Informative)

    by Grumbleduke (789126) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @03:07PM (#40080045) Journal

    Iirc they're on charges of conspiracy to defraud, which is a separate offence to fraud. Fraud is quite narrowly defined (by the Fraud Act 2006). Conspiracy to defraud [wikipedia.org] is one of the most controversial criminal offences in English law as it is incredibly broad and vague, potentially criminalising an agreement to do something that is of itself perfectly legal. It's popular with FACT and the MPAA at the moment as it is far easier to prove than criminal copyright infringement.

  • Re:Clarify (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @04:49PM (#40080977)

    That is correct. Based on the tip Law Enforcement (LE) seized the couple's computers. LE analyzed the computers and opted not to press charges. Here is the problem. Rather than return the couple's property to them LE turned the computers over to the MPAA.

    Sounds like the MPAA has taken a lesson from the World of the News playbook ...

  • Re:Clarify (Score:5, Informative)

    by oxdas (2447598) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @07:57PM (#40082421)

    I hate to reply to my own post, but I looked into this a little and while strange to me as an American, I now understand what's going on.

    In the UK it is legal for private parties to charge another private party with a criminal act. It's called private prosecution and we have nothing like it in the U.S. FACT is legally allowed to charge these people with a crime, employ the police to seize their property for evidence (with a warrant), and act as prosecutor in front of the court (they can be sentenced to prison as an outcome). The crown (government) prosecutors can choose to take over the prosecution and even put a stop to it if they want, but they can also do nothing. So, turning the evidence over to FACT is not at all inconsistent with British law.

    Personally, I find the idea of private prosecutions frightening.

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