Federal prosecutors charged three men for their alleged involvement in an international piracy operation.
In a release that includes the Manhattan federal court filing, Jonatan Correa, Umar Ahmad and George Bridi were indicted on charges of copyright infringement conspiracy, with Bridi also being charged for wire fraud conspiracy and conspiracy to transport stolen property interstate. The three men were charged in connection with their involvement in the Sparks Group, which pirates and distributes films and TV shows online.
The extent of the allegations is wide-reaching: the report suggests that almost every major film in recent years could have been pirated by the group. But as of Wednesday, dozens of Sparks Group servers have been shut down throughout the globe.
“The group allegedly circumvented copyright protections on nearly every movie released by major production studios, as well as television shows, and distributed them by way of a worldwide network of servers,” acting U.S. attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement. “Thanks to the efforts of HSI, the Postal Inspection Service, Eurojust, Europol, and our law enforcement partners in 18 countries on three continents, key members of this group are in custody, and the servers that were the pipeline for wholesale theft of intellectual property are now out of service.”
In many cases, the group appears to have gained access to physical copies of films before their release date by misrepresenting themselves to wholesale distributors, according to the indictments.
The allegations against the three men date between 2011 and early 2020, with losses to film production studios estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
“Once they obtained the DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, members of the Sparks Group used computers with specialized software that compromised the copyright protections on the discs … and reproduced and encoded the content in a high-definition format that could be easily copied and disseminated over the Internet,” the indictments claim.
Bridi and Ahmed allegedly arranged for these discs to be sent to members of Sparks Group, including Correa.
The case came together with cooperation between the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations and the New York Office of the United States Postal Inspection Service, with assistance from the U.S. Department Justice’s Office of International Affairs and authorities in 18 different countries where the organization was allegedly involved.