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SurfTheChannel site operator found guilty of conspiracy to defraud

First major UK decision against a links site

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A landmark legal case has ended with the operator of streaming links website SurfTheChannel.com being found guilty.

The case against the Gateshead couple who operated the venture was brought by the Federation against Copyright Theft (FACT) and the Motion Picture Ass. of America, the MPAA.

Anton Vickerman, 41, was found guilty at Newcastle Crown Court of conspiracy to defraud, court officials confirmed to the Register today. SurfTheChannel.com provided links to third-party sites where infringing content was hosted rather than hosting the content itself. Vickerman's wife Karen Vickerman was found not guilty on the same charges.

The conviction comes after British authorities declined to press criminal charges against Vickerman, and after a similar action against UK bittorrent tracker OiNK – also under conspiracy-to-defraud charges – failed in 2010. But the Vickerman case turned when a sysop who had been hired by SurfTheChannel agreed to co-operate with the prosecution. A civil action then followed.

While OiNK was a closed, invitation-only service, SurfTheChannel was hugely popular – one of the top 500 websites globally – and according to prosecutors, yielded at least £35,000 a month in revenue.

The case is significant for several reasons. Linking sites have previously won by arguing a technicality: that because they didn't host the infringing material, they were innocent. TV-Links successfully used this 'conduit' defence in 2010. However, last year's Newsbinz verdict changed the legal landscape. The Vickerman prosecution applies it to a UK site.

Sentencing will follow on 30 July. ®

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