Anton Vickerman and Fact UK

If sailor tales to sailor tunes,
Storm and adventure, heat and cold,
If schooners, islands, and maroons
And Buccaneers and buried Gold
And all the old romance, retold,
Exactly in the ancient way,
Can please, as me they pleased of old,
The wiser youngsters of to-day:

-So be it, and fall on!

Anton VickermanOn Tuesday 14 August, Anton Vickerman was sentenced to four years in jail for piracy.

Anton Vickerman ran a website called surfthechannel.com which hosted no illegal content: surfthechannel (as I understand it – I never saw it when it was live) allowed other people to upload links to websites where pirated copies of new movies could be found. Vickerman’s profits came from the advertising on the site – said to be worth £300,000 a year.

The Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) is a organisation funded by the movie industry to ensure that no films are distributed illegally online for free. FACT are responsible for the intrusive and annoying anti-piracy ads that must be played through at the start of any legally-acquired DVD or video. It is said to be simply the UK branch of the MPAA.

The judge’s reasoning for the long sentence was that during the period in which surfthechannel was running (2007-2012) this had cost the film industry millions because people who watched a film before the permitted date of release would naturally never have wanted to see it again.

In determining the appropriate sentence I have to make an assessment of the loss to the film industry resulting from your conduct. That is an all but impossible task. The Prosecution estimate the loss at running into hundreds of millions of pounds. That estimate is based on the loss of revenue from STC’s provision of the means to access the top 50 films during the period covered by the indictment. It is put at between £52 and £198 million. Those figures are based on their research suggesting that 55% of those who accessed the films for free would, had they been unable to watch them for free, have paid either through the box office to watch the film or rented a DVD. Others would have purchased the film on the High Street and others would have viewed it on pay TV or downloaded it from an official site. In reality it is somewhat speculative very difficult to calculate the loss to the industry but that pirating films in the way that you did, does expose the industry to the likelihood of huge losses. I accept that any assessment of the loss to the industry is highly speculative and while I do not deal with you on the basis of the figures advanced by the prosecution, there is no doubt in my judgement but that the industry has suffered a loss running into millions.

The Copyright Alliance gleefully notes that because Vickerman was convicted of conspiracy to defraud rather than infringment of copyright, his sentence could be longer.

From the ZeroPaid website:

Despite being a limited company, with no real investigative rights beyond those of the average citizen, FACT was able to gather up very detailed information on not only Mr Vickerman, but his wife, children and parents, including their financial situation, loans, outstanding payments, payment history, as well as covert video and transcripts of private conversations. It reads like a government backed, police investigation, but FACT is simply a UK branch of the MPAA. That’s overseas interests invading the privacy of a British citizen.

However, FACT took things a step further, by recording audio and video of Mr Vickerman and his wife in person. First by spying on his house – then by meeting with him on two seperate occasions, with the guise of an investor and as a potential house buyer. The first instance saw an employee of the MPAA – named in the document as Pascal Herzscholdt – meet in a public place to discuss potentially providing financial assitance to Surfthechannel. Vickerman claims that several other FACT members were there, covertly recording and observing the meeting.

Further down the line, FACT responded to an advert for the sale of Vickerman’s property. It then went as far as sending a private investigator to the house, covertly videoing its contents and Mr Vickerman while recording the conversations had with him.

Sergey Brin, one of Google’s co-founders, pointed out the reality that the movie and music industry fails to grasp:

“I haven’t tried it for many years but when you go on a pirate website, you choose what you like, it downloads to the device of your choice and it will just work – and then when you have to jump through all these hoops (to buy legitimate content), the walls created are disincentives for people to buy.”

You can’t legislate against that. You can only make it as easy to buy legally as it would be to download illegally. Secret of business success: make it easy for the customers to buy stuff from you.

Anton Vickerman left a 20,000 word document with a link to download materials. That link no longer seems to work, which does not altogether surprise me.

“We’re none of us perfect,” replied the Captain. “That’s a fact of religion, my man. All I can say is, I try to do my duty; and if you try to do yours, I can’t compliment you on your success.”

“And so you was the judge, was you?” said Silver, derisively.

“I would be both judge and hangman for you, my man, and never turn a hair,” returned the Captain. “But I get beyond that: it mayn’t be sound theology, but it’s common sense, that what is good is useful too—or there and thereabout, for I don’t set up to be a thinker. Now, where would a story go to if there were no virtuous characters?”

“If you go to that,” replied Silver, “where would a story begin, if there wasn’t no villains?”

“Well, that’s pretty much my thought,” said Captain Smollett. “The Author has to get a story; that’s what he wants; and to get a story, and to have a man like the doctor (say) given a proper chance, he has to put in men like you and Hands. But he’s on the right side; and you mind your eye! You’re not through this story yet; there’s trouble coming for you.” “The Persons of the Tale”, Fables, by R. L. Stevenson

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