The owner of SurfTheChannel.com has been convicted after “facilitating” copyright infringement.
Anton Vickerman will be sentenced next month after being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, at Newcastle Crown Court. The maximum penalty for his crime is 10 years in jail.
His site used to host some of the UK’s most visited web pages offering links to illegally copied streaming videos.
The Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) – whose members include film and TV distributors from across the world – said that at its height in 2009 SurfTheChannel.com attracted more than 400,000 visitors a day, generating more than £35,000 in advertising revenue a month.
It said users had been encouraged to find, check and add links to help keep the site up to date.
Fact hired an undercover agent to confirm Mr Vickerman was running the site, who visited the suspect’s house without revealing their true identity.
They confirmed Mr Vickerman had designed the “front end” of the service and recruited others via the internet to look after its “back end” functions.
The UK’s Pirate Party – a political group that wants to want to legalise non-commercial file-sharing – said it found the verdict worrying.
“The interest groups involved couldn’t present a case of copyright infringement and instead decided to press for the use of the common law offense of conspiracy to defraud,” said its leader Loz Kaye.
“It criminalizes conduct by two or more people that would not be criminal when performed by an individual. The offense was notoriously used in the 1970s to prevent people sharing film cassettes… until Hollywood realised they were better off embracing the new technology.”
Mr Vickerman, from Gateshead, is due to be sentenced on 30 July.