Anton Vickerman, owner of the surfthechannel website, was given four years for "conspiracy to defraud" for operating a website devoted to linking to pirated films and music.
How long of a jail term should website owners serve if their website is devoted to providing users with links to pirated films? Six months? A year? According to British courts, it’s four years. At least, that’s the sentence they gave to Anton Vickerman, the owner of surfthechannel.com, after he was found guilty of two counts of “conspiracy to defraud,” a sentence which is longer than the average jail term for assault or burglary in the British system.
Piracy is, of course, illegal in the UK and Vickerman’s site, which was dedicated to providing links to pirated films and other media, was so popular that its yearly profits were estimated at roughly £300,000 at the height of its popularity. This made the massive film and music industries furious, which then funded FACT, an anti-piracy group, in their prosecution targeted against Vickerman. In fact, the Crown Prosecution Service initially refused to prosecute due to lack of evidence, leading FACT to pursue further investigations in order to gather more evidence.
While surfthechannel did not actually host the pirated content, FACT says that Vickerman “targeted pirated films including those not yet released at cinema,” (an impressive feat) and proceeded to “anonymously upload” them to third-party sites. FACT argued that because of this, surfthechannel was no mere collection of links.
It’s curious, however, that FACT chose to prosecute under a common law offence rather than prosecuting under the copyright laws that, surely, were passed by the British Parliament to handle just such a problem as this. But then again, conspiracy to defraud carries a maximum penalty of 10 years. It’s also curious that FACT chose not to prosecute Google, YouTube or any other content archive with links to pirated content or even the content itself. FACT argues that they’re not the same as a site like surfthechannel, which was created specifically to profit from illegal material whereas search engines like Google are legitimate enterprises which might happen to have some links to illegal material, though it could also be argued that had Google relegated the search results for pirate sites a decade ago instead of just this week it may not have been worthwhile for Vickerman to create his site in the first place.