FILE PHOTO: Tourists walk across a bridge near the site of the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 24, 2012. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
November 18, 2021
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A British man pleaded guilty on Thursday to involvement in an alleged global piracy ring that distributed unreleased movies and television shows online, causing major losses for production studios.
George Bridi, 52, entered his plea to a copyright infringement conspiracy charge in a telephone hearing before U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan.
He admitted to being “a bit nervous,” but when asked by the judge whether he was pleading guilty because he was guilty answered clearly, “Yes, your honor.”
The case arose from Bridi’s work for the Sparks Group, which, according to prosecutors, cost studios tens of millions of dollars over nearly a decade by leaking movies and TV shows before their scheduled release dates.
Prosecutors said Sparks obtained advance copies of copyrighted DVDs and Blu-Ray discs from wholesale distributors after concocting reasons to obtain them.
Sparks then used computers to override the discs’ copyright protections, known as “cracking” or “ripping,” and recoded the discs so they could be shared easily online, prosecutors said.
The indictment said the reproduced content was tagged with such names as “Drones,” “Rovers,” “Geckos” and “Sprinter.”
Bridi, who has lived on the Isle of Wight in England, was arrested in Cyprus in August 2020 and extradited one year later.
He could face 2-1/4 to 2-3/4 years in prison under recommended federal guidelines at his Jan. 20, 2022, sentencing.
U.S. prosecutors have also charged two other defendants over the scheme.
One defendant, Jonatan Correa, pleaded guilty to a copyright infringement conspiracy charge and was sentenced in May to 2-1/4 years of supervised release. The other defendant, Umar Ahmad of Norway, has been at large.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)