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A US federal grand jury has indicted five men, based in four countries, who allegedly distributed stolen digital versions of numerous films and TV online before their official release date.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the jury indicted the men on Wednesday, December 12, after indictments were filed at the US District Court for the Central District of California earlier this year.
“Fifty Shades of Grey”, “The Walking Dead”, “Godzilla”, and “The Expendables 3” are among the works that were allegedly pirated.
According to the indictment, the defendants hacked into computer systems used by Hollywood film production companies and stole digital files, including films, trailers, audio tracks, and TV series episodes.
It is believed that they also illicitly acquired copies of films by recording cinema screenings.
The five men allegedly placed the stolen files onto a France-based server, which ICE found to contain more than 25,000 motion picture-related files, before altering the files to make them easier to distribute online.
ICE said that the stolen content was sold via private electronic communications and shared through pirate movie websites.
The illegal activities began in 2013 and continued into 2015, the indictment said.
One defendant, Malik Luqman Farooq, who is a resident of the UK, is accused of stealing more than a dozen films over a period of two years. He was previously arrested in the UK on related charges, and he is awaiting trial there.
Dubai-based Sam Nhance was responsible for procuring and maintaining the computer service on which the defendants stored and manipulated the digital content for distribution, ICE said.
The indictment claimed that Ghobhirajah Selvarajah, who resides in Malaysia, was the registered owner of a PayPal account which the men used to receive payment for films sold online, as well as to make payments for the storage server.
Finally, India-based Aditya Raj and Jitesh Jadhav are also named as defendants. Raj allegedly released the pirated movies online and arranged for the recording of films in India, while Jadhav is believed to have recorded the films using a camcorder and sold them to his fellow defendants.
Jadhav recorded screenings of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, according to ICE.
ICE also claimed that the five men previously operated a website, “BollyTNT”, which was used to distribute Bollywood films.
The charges against the men, who are not currently in US custody, are conspiracy to commit computer fraud, unauthorised access to a computer, aggravated identity theft, and copyright infringement.
ICE said that conspiracy, computer hacking, and copyright violation charges each carry a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison, while the charges of aggravated identity theft carry a mandatory two-year sentence to run consecutive to any other sentence imposed in the case.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, copyright infringement, indictment, piracy, films, TV, computer fraud, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Walking Dead