Some good news from my neck of the woods as California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that her office had filed charges against 3 brothers who operated pirate websites featuring stolen movies and TV shows. According to a press release issued today, the 3 Bay Area men, Hop Hoang, 26, Tony Hoang, 23, and Huynh Hoang, 20, could face up to five years in prison if convicted. The brothers were arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court yesterday on charges that they operated a website (mediamp4.com) that allowed users access to illegal streams of more than 1,000 copyrighted TV shows and movies. More from the press release:
The three have each been charged with one count of conspiracy, four counts of receiving stolen property and one count of grand theft.
“Digital piracy is theft. It is a serious crime that harms one of California’s most important economic engines – our entertainment industry,” said Attorney General Harris. “This case sends a clear message that the California Department of Justice will investigate digital piracy and prosecute violators to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) initially began an investigation into iphonetvshows.net and movieiphone.net and sent a cease and desist letter to Tony Hoang. Thereafter, Tony Hoang and his co-defendant brothers allegedly resumed the illegal operation under a new domain name, mediamp4.com. The Attorney General’s office then initiated an investigation into mediamp4.com, executed a search warrant, seized property used in connection with the illegal operation and filed charges against the Hoang brothers.
Is this the beginning of a positive trend in the battle against online piracy? Last week we saw Mississippi’s AG Jim Hood raise concerns over Google’s links to illegal online activity and now California’s AG Kamala D. Harris steps into the fray. The California investigation was directed by the eCrime Unit of the California Attorney General’s Office, California Highway Patrol, and REACT (Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team) a law enforcement task force located in Silicon Valley specializing in investigating technology crimes and identity theft.
It’s alleged that the brothers earned approximately $150,000 over the past 18 months through advertising and that they drove traffic to the site via Google search ads. Once again this illustrates the ongoing link between the lure of piracy profits via online advertising and these illegal websites. The pirates are not in business for altruistic reasons; they were pirating content because it pays.
Kudos too, to the MPAA that initiated the initial investigation. Let’s not forget that taking down illegal online piracy sites not only benefits Hollywood movie-makers, but also helps independent filmmakers around the globe in the ongoing battle to protect their films from being stolen and monetized by thieves. As MPPA CEO and former Senator Chris Dodd explained,
There are now nearly 80 legal online services in the United States dedicated to providing movies and television shows to viewers. But to realize the enormous potential of these businesses and ensure an Internet that works for everyone, it is critical that government, content creators, the tech community and others work together to stop illegal rogue sites.
I tried to visit the website in question but it’s apparently already been taken offline and the domain parked, but I did find this YouTube “review” for the site which pretty much covers its (former) operations. Watching this review it seems evident that the site was designed to allow users to easily stream or watch pirated content on iPhones, iPads or computers.
I must say, it was heartening to hear the reviewer note that it is “becoming harder and harder to find good sites.” Let’s hope other state attorney generals get on board. Bit by bit, piece by piece, we are making progress against the black market business of online piracy.