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 and seven months.
In what is understood to be the world’s largest-ever prosecution of an illegal streaming network, five people were sentenced at Chesterfield Justice Centre after being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, money laundering and contempt of court.
Trading under the names, Flawless, Shared VPS and Optimal (also known as Cosmic), the fraudulent operations generated in excess of £7million in just five years.
The illegal-streaming businesses involved more than 50,000 customers and resellers, and 30 employees, one of which was positioned undercover at a specialist anti-piracy company. The organisations 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.
All but one of the defendants, including Mark Gould, 36, who masterminded the operation and was one of the original co-founders, eventually pleaded guilty to all charges against them. Gould, who was described by the judge as the driving force of the conspiracy, was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
William Brown, 33, from Stoke-on-Trent, who pleaded not guilty, 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. In February this year, following a seven-week trial, Brown was unanimously found guilty by the jury.
The investigation and prosecution by the Premier League also found significant evidence of other serious criminality. Christopher Felvus, 36, from Pontypool, has subsequently been convicted of multiple unrelated offences.
In addition, materials seized from Gould resulted in his further arrest by the Metropolitan Police as he attempted to leave the country. He is now the subject of another ongoing separate criminal investigation, which the Premier League is assisting.
In handing down the sentences, the Judge described a sophisticated offence involving significant planning and expertise, which involved the hacking of legitimate customers in the UK and abroad.
The investigation and prosecution undertaken by the Premier League was supported by a number of organisations including Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s Trading Standards team and the intellectual property protection organisation, FACT.
Kevin Plumb, Premier League General Counsel, said: “Today’s sentencing is the result of a long and complex prosecution of a highly sophisticated operation. 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.
“This prosecution is another concrete example of the clear links between piracy and wider criminality, a warning we repeatedly make. 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.
“This was a hugely challenging case, and we are extremely grateful for the hard work and expertise of the authorities who supported us, in particular the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Trading Standards who coordinated the investigation and worked with law enforcement agencies across the country.
“The Premier League's substantial financial contribution to the entire football pyramid is made possible through the ability to sell our broadcast rights. We are pleased that through rulings such as this, the courts continue to show that they recognise the importance of safeguarding the Premier League's rights. We will continue to protect our rights and our fans by investigating and prosecuting illegal operators at all levels.”
FACT CEO, Kieron Sharp, added: “FACT were delighted to support the Premier League on this landmark case, which is a powerful reminder that piracy is a serious crime with severe consequences. The successful result was made possible thanks to the invaluable support of numerous law enforcement agencies, including the Trading Standards teams from the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and Birmingham 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).
“I would like to express our sincere thanks to all those agencies for their invaluable support, which has resulted in the dismantling of a major organised crime operation and reiterates the importance of protecting the rights of creators and content owners.”
The Premier League has one of the most comprehensive anti-piracy programmes in the world, working with broadcast partners and authorities to bring down illegal streams and investigate and prosecute suppliers of illegal streaming services.