A piracy group that’s spent almost a decade obtaining Blu-ray discs of unreleased movies and TV shows in order to bootleg them has been shut down, according to law enforcement.
The US Justice Department said on Wednesday they arrested two members of the “Sparks Group,” which has been conspiring to spread pirated content since at least 2011.
In addition, Europol shut down dozens of servers tied to the group, which it claims is one of the largest online piracy organizations on the planet.
The first suspect 50-year-old George Bridi was arrested in Cyprus while his associate Jonatan Correa, 36, was nabbed in Olathe, Kansas. The third member, the 39-year-old Norwegian Umar Ahmad, remains at large.
The group pulled off their piracy by claiming they were home video retailers and then tricking DVD and Blu-ray wholesale distributors into supplying them the discs weeks prior to the actual release dates. They’d then use computer software to help them crack the copyright protections on the discs before copying the content, and circulating it over the internet.
“Over the course of the conspiracy, the Sparks Group has successfully reproduced and disseminated hundreds of movies and television shows prior to their retail release date, including every movie released by major production studios,” the indictments against the suspects read.
To spread the pirated copies, the group used streaming sites, peer-to-peer networks, torrent networks and other servers to make the content available over the internet. The bootlegged media was also tagged with names such as “sparks,” “drones,” “rovers,” “geckos,” and “sprinter,” among others.
The Justice Department estimates the Sparks Group caused tens of millions in losses to the film production studios. How investigators managed to identify and nab the suspects wasn’t made clear. But Europol says international law enforcement took down 60 servers the group was using to host the pirated media.
“The servers were located around the world in Canada, Czechia, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom,” Europol added.
All three suspects face a maximum penalty of five years in prison for the copyright infringement. Bridi also faces a maximum penalty of 20 additional years in prison for wire fraud, and another five for conspiring to transport stolen property.