British national extradited to US on charges in Sparks piracy case

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Image source: US DOJ

A UK citizen indicted on August 26 on copyright infringement and wire fraud charges as part of the Sparks Group piracy operation was extradited from Cyprus to the United States on September 1.  The Sparks Group is an international piracy operation involved in illegally distributing video programming online.  The charges and the extradition were announced by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

According to the Court’s news release, the extradited individual George Bridi, two other named individuals, and “others known and unknown” were members of the Sparks Group, a criminal organization that disseminated on the Internet movies and television shows prior to their retail release date, including nearly every movie released by major production studios, after compromising the content’s copyright protections.

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Sparks Group tricked video wholesalers into trusting them to provide physical copies of video titles prior to their release dates, and then ripped them to digital formats for illegal distribution online.

Taking down the Sparks Group piracy operation. Image source: Eurojust, August 2020

Read about the September 1 extradition (US Dept. of Justice)

Read previous coverage by Piracy Monitor including the August indictments (August 2021)

Why it matters

There are several lessons to be learned.  First, penalties are stiff.  While a court judge makes final determination of actual penalties, each of the three individuals were charged with copyright infringement conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.  Bridi, the extradited individual, is also charged with wire fraud conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and conspiracy to transport stolen property interstate, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Another lesson is that international collaborations work, between disparate governmental agencies, law enforcement and court systems in multiple countries.  In this case, the US Department of Justice, Eurojust, the US Postal Inspection Service, the US Office of Homeland Security Investigations, and law enforcement authorities in 18 other countries, collaborated to carry the day.

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