NinjaVideo Founder Sentenced to 14 Months as Senate Delays PIPA Vote
Even as the battle over the proposed anti-piracy legislation continues, action under the current domestic rules also goes forward and it shows the very real consequences of the law.
On Friday Matthew David Howard Smith, age 24, the founder of NinjaVideo.net, was sentenced to 14 months in prison. Smith had pleaded guilty on Sept. 23, 2011 to conspiracy and criminal copyright infringement.
The sentence against the Raleigh, North Carolina man by U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Trenga in Alexandra, Virginia, also includes two years of supervised release following his prison term, requires him to pay $172,387 and to forfeit five financial accounts and various computer equipment involved in the crimes.
Smith’s sentence was the result of an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.
Smith was a founder of the website which operated from Feb. 2008 until June 2010. According to Homeland Security, NinjaVideo.net provided web surfers with the ability to download copyright protected movies and TV programs in high quality formats. Many of the movies, they say, were still in theaters when they were being downloaded.
Through deals with online ad entities, the site collected more than $500,000 over two and a half years of operation. Smith is said to have kept $172,387 for himself, which explains the odd amount of his fine.
Smith was indicted along with four others. His co-defendant Hana Amal Beshara was sentenced earlier in January to 22 months in prison and order to replay $210,000. Two others await sentencing.
An arrest warrant for a fourth person, Zoi Mertzanis of Greece, is outstanding. Another co-founder of the site who was not named has also pleaded guilty.
In a press release about how the investigation was done, the government provides this information: "The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. This criminal investigation is part of the IPR Center's groundbreaking “Operation In Our Sites,” which targets the online sale of counterfeit and pirated commodities. The IPR Center uses the expertise of its 19 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions, and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety, the U.S. economy and the war fighters.
This latest prosecution comes as a national debate rages over a bill to do to foreign websites what current laws do to domestic lawbreakers, as in this case. After an action was announced yesterday, hackers brought down the U.S. Justice Department website for a time and impacted other sites.
Earlier today the U.S. Senate decided to hold off on a key vote that could lead to passage of the PIPA legislation.