NinjaVideo.net co-founder pleads guilty to copyright infringement

A founder of a website that provided users with the ability to download pirated movies and TV shows was sentenced to 22 months in prison on Friday after pleading guilty to conspiracy and criminal copyright infringement.

Hana Amal Beshara, 30, of New Brunswick, N.J., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Anthony Tenga, who also ordered Beshara to serve two years of supervised release, 500 hours of community service, and to repay $209,826.95 that she obtained from her work at NinjaVideo.net. She also was ordered to forfeit several financial accounts and consumer equipment.

Three of Beshara’s co-defendants plead guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Another co-founder of NinjaVideo who was charged separately also has pleaded guilty. An arrest warrant is out for another co-defendant, Zoi Mertzanis, of Greece.

NinjaVideo.net operated from February 2008 until June 2010, when the government shut it down as part of the Operation In Our Sites crackdown on infringing websites. The investigation was conducted by a unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. NinjaVideo allowed visitors to view movies without charge, including some that were still playing in theaters, as well as TV shows immediately after they aired.

According to ICE, Beshara was known as “Queen Phara” and was the public face of the site, supervising the uploading of content and moderating the website’s forum boards. Federal officials said she also managed the finances of the site, with ad revenue and visitor donations generating more than $500,000. Officials said Beshara personally received nearly $210,000.

Beshara’s attorney, David Smith, wrote in a memorandum to the court last month that Beshara and other co-defendants “saw themselves in the mold of Robin Hood, providing free access, to those who could not afford to pay, to movies, television shows and a great collection of documentaries. She was proud of the stream of complimentary letters she received from our troops abroad. She also justified the infringing acttivity in her own mind as a means to the end of creating an outstanding website devoted to the arts and letters.”

Smith pointed out Beshara’s middle-class upbringing and education, as well as a stint as a foreign policy intern with the Bill Clinton Foundation. Beshara likened her actions, Smith said, to “civil disobedience.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more