Pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit copyright infringement – a crime that carries up to a five year prison sentence – George Bridi admitted that he “participated in an international video piracy ring that illegally distributed worldwide on the Internet nearly every movie released by major production studios, as well as television shows.”
Sparks Group, of which Bridi was a member, obtained copyrighted video assets on physical media, ripped them to digital formats that could be distributed easily over streaming Web sites, P2P networks and via torrent. Suppliers to the Sparks Group included distributors that were located in the New York City area, with whom Bridi made delivery arrangements.
According to a statement by the Office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the Sparks Group encoded the filenames of reproduced copyrighted content with distinctive tags, and uploaded photos of the discs in their original packaging to demonstrate that the reproduced content originated from authentic DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. and then misrepresented to their distributors the reasons by which the programming was available prior to their release dates.
Active since 2011, the Sparks Group was shut down and Bridi was arrested in Cyprus in August 2020. Bridi was extradited to the US in September 2021 and will be sentenced on January 20, 2022.
Why it matters
The Sparks Group case is another example of how collaboration across national and international justice, investigative, and law enforcement agencies constitutes a powerful force in fighting piracy. In this case collaborators included the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Postal Inspection Service, the US Department of Justice Office of International Affairs, Europol, Eurojust and law enforcement across 18 countries. Planning for this operation took place in August 2020.
The October 2021 Video Security Summit held by Piracy Monitor included a panel discussion with executives of three anti-piracy groups who outlined some of the tactics used in such collaborations.