A father and son-in-law were today given suspended sentences for their part in an internet movie “theft” racket.
Hugh Reid (70), of Knockvale Park, Belfast, and Marcus Lewis (43), from Suffolk in England, pleaded guilty at Belfast Crown Court to distributing articles which infringed copyright law.
A crown lawyer said that in November 2007 the Federation of Copyright Theft (FACT) discovered a webiste called Araditracker which offered downloads for films, computer games and books.
Investigations revealed that Araitrackers 33,000 subcribers were asked to make “donations” to the website between November 2007 and August 2008.
The business was set up under the guise of buying radiators or parts for radiators.
But members to the site were in fact paying for music, film and game downloads which had copied in cinemas or “ripped” from promotional DVDs sent out to the media.
The lawyer said that because of the volume of money coming into the site, online payment service PayPal refused to take anymore money for Araditracker.
But no sooner had Araditracker been shut down than another website opened up under the guise of I Love To Buy Books.
In August 2008, the PSNI and FACT investigators raided the home of Huge Reid at Knockvale Park in Belfast and removed computer equipment and other documents which later linked him to his involvement in Araditracker.
The prosecuting lawyer said Reid had been running Radiator Services NI Ltd but around 2006 the company hit hard times because of a downturn in business and he set up Araditracker.
A search was also later carried out at Marcus Lewis’s then home in Colwyn Bay, Wales on November 25, 2011.
The court heard that a computer belonging to the web page designer was also seized. A forensic analysis also linked him to the distribution of the copyright material.
He said Lewis was involved in the “maintenance of the Araditracker system” on a daily basis.
The court heard Lewis, who is married to Reid’s daughter, had a clear record, and had left Wales following his arrest to start a new life and career in England.
Judge Philpott said the film industry is a “multi-million pound, if not multi billion pound industry which employs many people. There are people who work here locally who work to make films locally in this jurisdiction and in others as well. There are also the people who work in cinemas, the people who distrubted DVDS who are all affected by copyright infringements”
The judge added that the offence the defendants had pleaded guilty to was nothing less than “theft”
Judge Philpott added that she believed Lewis had a greater role in the operation given his computer and webpage skills.
“You must have known from an early stage that this was criminal behaviour.”
The judge sentenced both men to two years in prison suspended for two years.
A confiscation hearing will take place next month to recover £33,000 from Hugh Reid.
His defence counsel said the defendant “had the means” to settle the matter in full.