You can read the full story for yourself here but basically:
Anton Vickerman, 38-year old owner of the once popular link site surfthechannel.com (STC), was sentenced to four years in prison on Tuesday by a British judge. But the prosecutors sitting across the courtroom from him didn’t work for the Crown—they were lawyers for the movie studio trade group Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT).
FACT, not public officials in the UK, was the driving force behind Vickerman’s prosecution. Indeed, FACT effectively took on the role of a private law enforcement agency. Private investigators hired by FACT first identified Vickerman as the administrator of STC and built the case against him. His assets were frozen at FACT’s request by a government agency—which was itself funded by FACT. And when the UK’s public prosecutors decided not to press charges against Vickerman at all, FACT initiated a criminal prosecution on its own dime.
This is a new development for anti-piracy efforts. Organizations like the MPAA, RIAA, IFPA, and FACT have long lobbied law enforcement officials to prosecute “rogue sites” and have provided them with information and logistical support to do so. But public prosecutors generally have the final say on who will be indicted. In the Vickerman case, the public prosecutors concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to merit prosecution. FACT disagreed and invoked what one lawyer told us is an “archaic right” for a private organization to bring criminal prosecutions against other private parties.
Vickerman posted a lengthy testimonial to his site after he was convicted. In it, he describes FACT as a lawless conspiracy to shut down his site for the benefit of competing video sites, and he portrays Judge Evans as an “imbecile” who didn’t understand the legal issues in the case. While many of the accusations seem overwrought, Vickerman did include a cache of documents that came out during his trial. From them we can paint a clear picture of just how far one private party was allowed to go in its bid for justice.
FACT confirmed the authenticity of the court documents for us but declined to get into the specifics of Vickerman’s account—arguing that his conviction by a jury of his peers speaks for itself.
Trial by corporation – the new reality. Just what the hell is going on here? The defendant’s assets were frozen, meaning he could not pay to defend himself and the judge meekly went along with it.
Filed under: Politics & economics