MPAA Uses Secret Investors, Homebuyers to Catch Pirates

A sting operation that targeted SurfTheChannel.com, a British streaming links site that has been in the MPAA's crosshairs for awhile, included a fake venture capitalist to lure the owner into a meeting revealing financial details as well as secretly trailing a car back to the house of the couple who operated the site.

The MPAA also came up with the idea to use an employee as a potential buyer of the couple's home to snap pictures of the computer equipment in the house. The careful preparation eventually resulted in a raid. The British government decided not to engage in a criminal prosecution, but the MPAA followed through and threatened a contractor for the site in the U.S. with charges alleging that he was illegally maintaining code for SurfTheChannel.com. The two parties struck a deal in which the MPAA decided it would be OK with receiving the payment the contractor got from SurfTheChannel.com and his willingness to testify against the owners of the website in the UK. Apparently, it was this testimony that launched the criminal prosecution of the owners of the website.

The trial is running now and is expected to last about a month. There is no clear jurisdiction whether plain linking to copyright-infringing sites is illegal. the owners of SurfTheChannel.com claimed in a conversation with the secret MPAA investigator that the site generated revenues of about $50,000 per month from about 400,000 visitors every day.