British piracy ruling does not go to market

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LONDON -- British music and film groups on Thursday welcomed a key judgment at St. Albans Crown Court against market owners, which could prove hugely significant in the battle against copyright crime.

Record industry organization the British Phonographic Industry and film anti-piracy body FACT said the case against Wendy Fair Markets Ltd. is significant because all previous commercial piracy cases have been brought against either the sellers or distributors of the fakes, rather than the market owners themselves.

The landmark case, brought by Hertfordshire Trading Standards, drew nearer to a close when the jury found the company and directors Nicholas Hobday and Sally Ward guilty of money laundering charges.

The BPI and FACT claimed that both the defendants and the company itself had benefited financially from the illegal sale of counterfeit DVDs, CDs and computer software at Hemel Hempstead's Bovingdon Market.

The case marks the first time a market operator has been convicted of accepting, in the form of pitch rents, money it knew, or suspected, had been earned through criminal means.

Both the company, Wendy Fair Markets Ltd., which operates 17 other U.K. markets, and the directors, could now lose their assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Seven traders also face the possibility of custodial sentences. Two of them were found guilty of copyright offenses on Tuesday after five others pleaded guilty earlier in the year.

The verdict, follows a seven-week trial at St. Albans Crown Court. The BPI and FACT have vowed to use this judgment to urge other market owners to clean up their act.

"This is a great result for a joint agency initiative and shows that the market organizers were clearly allowing criminal activity to take place on a weekly basis at Bovingdon Market," FACT director general Kieron Sharp said. "Evidence gathered by FACT, BPI and Hertfordshire Trading Standards left the court in no doubt about the level of criminality occurring."

The defendants will be sentenced in September.
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