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Hollywood Interest Group Oversees Investigation, Arrest, Prosecution of British Citizen

This week in Profoundly Scary News: Anton Vickerman, the man behind TV-streaming link-a-palooza Surf The Channel has been sentenced to four years in jail. That’s not the scary part, though. The scary part is that the investigation into Vickerman was shepherded along at every stage not by agents of the British government, but by private contractors in the employ of a film studio trade group, the Federation Against Copyright Theft.

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Timothy B. Lee has a great, in-depth report on this whole, sorry, sordid affair over at Ars Technica that you should make the 10 minutes to read. We’ll broad-stroke it for you here.

Starting in 2008, FACT hired private investigators to dig into who owned STC, which was registered anonymously and offshore by Vickerman. These investigators arranged a meet, and later got a look at Vickerman’s home by posing as potential buyers for the property. Later that summer, they helped Northumbria police officers plan and stage a raid on Vickerman’s home in hopes of finding STC’s servers — which weren’t there.

It gets weirder. Vickerman and his wife then had their assets frozen by the¬†Bedfordshire Trading Standards Financial Investigations Unit (BTSFIU). That’s an arm of what was essentially a local banking regulator and fraud protection agency — an arm created and sponsored by FACT, with a special eye towards cracking down on movie piracy, because private organizations in the U.K. can sponsor their own pet agencies within law enforcement agencies.

The asset freeze only lasted a month, after which it became clear that the British government had no interest in prosecuting Vickerman — and wasn’t even sure that a crime had been committed. FACT, though, wasn’t done yet. Again, here’s where British law enforcement differs from the U.S. — FACT didn’t need a public prosecutor willing to take on Vickerman’s case. As long as FACT was willing to foot the bill for a trial, they could have their lawyers press charges against Vickerman with a judge acting as arbitrator.

That’s just what they did. And they won. Now, Vickerman is going to prison for four years. So, there’s that.

(via Ars Technica, whose read on this you should totally check out. For serious.)

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