UK: Premier League, FACT, tout 30 years of jail terms for band of pirates – the longest ever

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Trading under the names Flawless, Shared VPS and Optimal (also known as Cosmic), the fraudulent operations generated in excess of £7 million in just five years. The illegal streaming businesses employed 30, and involved more than 50,000 customers and resellers.  One of the employees had been placed undercover at a specialist anti-piracy company. 

The operations offered illegal access to watch Premier League matches, hundreds of channels from around the world and tens of thousands of on-demand films and TV shows; lineups that are common among piracy operations in general.

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On May 30, the individuals behind the three organizations were sentenced at the Chesterfield Justice Centre and jailed for a total of 30 years 7 months.  

One of the founders, 36 year-old Mark Gould, mastermind and driving fource of the operation, was sentenced to 11 years in prison.   Gould initially pleaded not guilty to all charges but changed his plea after police cracked Gould’s encrypted computers as part of a separate criminal investigation, which exposed new evidence relevant to the case. In addition to pleading guilty to two conspiracies to defraud, Gould also admitted being in contempt of court, after transferring almost £200,000 abroad in violation of a restraining order

The other defendants

Another of the defendents, William Brown, falsely claimed to have been an undercover informant acting in the interests of law enforcement authorities and broadcasters. However, he was instead using his expert technical skills to hack legitimate customers’ accounts to access and copy streams and intended for them to take the blame if identified by the authorities. While Brown pleaded had not guilty, The jury was unanimous in finding him guilty.

A third defendent, Christopher Felvus, has subsequently been convicted of multiple unrelated offences, including being in possession of indecent child imagery. In addition, materials seized from Gould resulted in his further arrest by the Metropolitan Police as he attempted to leave the country. He received a sentence of nearly 4 years and is now the subject of another ongoing separate criminal investigation, which the Premier League is assisting.

Two additional defendants supported the operations; one of which concealed about £500,000 in his parents’ bank account, leading to a charge of money laundering.  Each of them received sentences in excess of five years.

A sixth defendant remains at large.

The impact of piracy

In handing down the sentences, the presiding Judge described a sophisticated operation involving significant planning and expertise, including the hacking of legitimate customers in the UK and abroad.

“This prosecution is another concrete example of the clear links between piracy and wider criminality, a warning we repeatedly make,” said Kevin Plumb, Premier League General Counsel. “While most Premier League fans enjoy watching our games in a safe way, those who were customers of these services were effectively supporting individuals involved in other sinister and dangerous organised crime.

Broad collaboration

The investigation and prosecution undertaken by the Premier League was supported by a number of organizations.  “The successful result was made possible thanks to the invaluable support of numerous law enforcement agencies,” said Keiron Sharp, CEO of the intellectual property protection organization.

Collaboration across law enforcement. Image source: FACT

“(They included) the Trading Standards teams from the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea City Council, and the Metropolitan, Lancashire, Gwent, and West Midlands police services.  We were additionally assisted by the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NWROCU) and the Government Agency Intelligence Network (GAIN),” he said.

Further reading

The Individuals Behind Three Pirate Streaming Organisations, Which Offered Illegal Access To Watch Premier League Matches, Have Today Been Jailed For A Total Of 30 Years 7 Months.  Press release. May 30, 2023. Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT)

Why it matters

“Today’s sentencing is the result of a long and complex prosecution of a highly sophisticated operation,” said Mr. Plumb of the Premier League. The sentences handed down, which are the longest sentences ever issued for piracy-related crimes, vindicate the efforts made to bring these individuals to justice and reflect the severity and extent of the crimes.

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