The lead agency set up to coordinate anti-piracy efforts across the government will soon have studio “embed” to help them track theft of movies and TV shows.
The Motion Picture Association and the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, a worldwide anti-piracy coalition, expanded an existing framework agreement with the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.
Steve Francis, Executive Associate Director for Homeland Security Investigations, told Deadline that the embed “was one of the areas we thought would have the most impact because we would have a subject matter expert on site, not only working with our folks at the national level, but also supporting some of our investigative efforts, both domestically and around the globe.”
A major focus has been of streaming sites offering consumers pirated movies and TV shows. On Monday, a British man, George Bridi, was sentenced to 22-months in prison after pleading guilty to involvement in an online piracy ring known as the Sparks Group. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to criminally infringe copyrighted works.
Francis said that the IPR Center’s coordination with the private sector is codified in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, with the partnerships applying not just to movies and TV shows but also to pharmaceuticals, the recording industry, luxury goods and automotive.
He said that “without the private sector industry across all those sectors, we wouldn’t be very successful in our enforcement efforts.” The idea is that HSI field agents will have a “direct line” to MPA investigators on criminal digital piracy cases.
“They are the rights holder,” Francis said. “The U.S. government is not the rights holder. So whether it is their logo or their content being stolen, they are bringing it to our attention.”
He pointed to the operation to target the Sparks Group, with 17 different countries involved in enforcement activities.
Karyn Temple, senior executive vice president and global general counsel for the MPA, said that the arrangement “really allows us to be as proactive and effective as possible.” She said that the MPA representatives will “be there to discuss our cases and make sure our referrals are there in real time.”
“I think it will be helpful to law enforcement as well,” Temple said. “They will want to make sure they are getting the information in a way that allows them to act quickly.”
Jan van Voorn, MPA executive vice president and chief of global content protection, said that the embed will be based in Los Angeles and will start on Wednesday. The MPA and ACE also will rotate personnel throughout the year. He said that the embed also will help centralize a process that has been disbursed, given that piracy reports come from different states and countries.
Bridi was initially arrested on Aug. 2020 in the Republic of Cyprus and detained until his extradition to the U.S. He had been in custody for 17 months. His attorneys argued that the judge should impose a sentence of time served. Louis Freeman, his attorney, wrote that his “misguided actions, though criminal, were not for financial gain and he has accepted complete responsibility for his actions.”
Francis credited MPA and ACE for hiring a global network of investigators to spot online infringement. The government has 30 attaches “which is kind of our representative in those countries,” who are law enforcement agents from Homeland Security Investigations who work alongside foreign law enforcement counterparts. Foreign service nationals, many former law enforcement officers, are hired to work alongside the attaches. They provide evidence like networks and servers or financial information to local prosecutors.
The type of piracy that is most prevalent are sites that offer something that is “too good to be true,” he said, where subscribers “are paying a $10 monthly fee but they have unlimited access to any network, any television, and even pre-release content, new movies coming out. So it’s a one-stop shop and it’s a big business.”
“The nice thing about it now is the folks that are doing it, they are doing it on a mass scale and we can target better those individuals who are using servers that are probably in countries that are more protected,” he aded. “But we’re following the financial flows and identifying U.S persons or other countries that are willing to prosecute these people that are part of this network and the monthly subscription services.”
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