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International authorities dismantle online piracy ring

International authorities dismantle online piracy ring
© Getty Images

The Justice Department and the European Union’s Eurojust agency on Wednesday brought charges against three individuals allegedly involved in an online piracy group that caused millions of dollars in losses for U.S. film studios.

The men — Umar Ahmad, George Bridi and Jonatan Correa — were indicted on charges of copyright infringement, officials said, adding that they were involved in the Sparks Group, an international organization that engaged in piracy and illegally distributed films and television shows online 

Bridi, a citizen of the United Kingdom who was also charged with wire fraud and the interstate transportation of stolen property, was arrested in Cyprus earlier this week by Interpol, and U.S. authorities plan to request his extradition. Ahmad, a citizen of Norway, has not yet been found by authorities, while Correa was arrested in Kansas on Tuesday, officials said. 

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All three men face up to five years in prison if convicted on the copyright infringement charges, while Bridi faces a potential 25 additional years in prison.

The three men are alleged to have been involved in the Sparks Group since 2011, with authorities noting that the group caused “tens of millions of dollars” in damages to film studios through the illegal distribution of films and television shows. 

The Sparks Group is alleged to have fraudulently obtained DVDs and Blu-ray discs ahead of their public release by lying to distributors and then using software to compromise the copyright protections on those discs, with the films and shows then uploaded to servers controlled by the Sparks Group. 

Most of the servers, which were located in more than a dozen countries, were dismantled as part of Wednesday’s actions. 

The Justice Department emphasized the importance of international coordination in bringing charges against the defendants on Wednesday. Authorities in 19 countries were involved, according to Eurojust. 

“In an investigation that spanned several time zones, the Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies in the United States worked very closely with national authorities from all other countries involved, exchanging necessary information in real time in a highly dynamic landscape,” Vaughn Ary, director of the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, said in a statement. “The Department extends our gratitude to Eurojust, Europol, and our international partners, who played a critical role in the investigation and takedown of these alleged cyber criminals.”

Eurojust President Ladislav Hamran said in a separate statement that the case “is an excellent example of what can be achieved if we work together across borders and continents. Thanks to the long-standing partnership between the US and the European authorities, we managed to deal a significant blow to online piracy.”