27 August 2020CopyrightSarah Morgan

Europol and 19 countries dismantle international piracy group

The ‘Sparks Group’, allegedly one of the biggest online piracy networks in the world, has been taken down in a coordinated action between US authorities and their counterparts in 18 countries around the world, with Europol and Eurojust support.

On Tuesday, August 25, the operation—which is mainly responsible for pirating films and hosting illegal digital content—was dismantled. Dozens of servers were taken down in North America, Europe and Asia and several of the main suspects were arrested.

The following day, US prosecutors  unsealed indictments against three people reportedly involved in the ‘Sparks Group’, charging each with copyright infringement.

Acting US attorney Audrey Strauss said: “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.”

One of the members of the alleged criminal network was arrested over the weekend in Cyprus and another suspect was arrested yesterday in the US. The US is seeking extradition from Cyprus for the suspect to stand trial in the US.

According to Europol, the piracy group (which has been under investigation since September 2016) has successfully reproduced and disseminated hundreds of movies and TV programmes prior to their retail release date. This includes nearly every movie released by major production studios in the US.

“The Sparks Group has caused tens of millions of US dollars in losses to film production studios, mainly to the US movie, television, and supporting industries, from the copyright infringement,” it added.

Allegedly, the network fraudulently obtained copyright-protected DVDs and Blu-Ray discs from wholesale distributors in advance of their retail release date. The group then compromised the copyright protections on the discs to reproduce and upload the content publically to online servers.

Peter Fitzhugh, special agent-in-charge of the New York field office of Homeland Security Investigations, added: “This investigation shows— in high definition—that despite the online platform and international nature of this scheme, we are committed to stop those who use the cyber world for illicit gain."

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