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Grand jury indicts alleged video download site operators

NinjaVideo.net infringed copyright by offering movies, TV shows and other content to users, the DOJ says

A grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, has indicted five people allegedly involved with video download site NinjaVideo.net on conspiracy and copyright infringement charges, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday.

The five people are charged with one count of conspiracy and five counts of criminal copyright infringement for their alleged participation in the site, which allowed visitors to download television programs and movies still playing in theaters or not yet released, the DOJ said. NinjaVideo, which operated from February 2008 until law enforcement officials shut it down in June 2010, allegedly provided millions of visitors with infringing copies of movies and TV shows.

The website offered many movies and TV shows free of charge, with visitors gaining access to a larger selection of movies, digital comic books and software for a "donation" of US$25, the DOJ said in a press release. Paying customers could request content to be included on NinjaVideo, according to the indictment.

The website also generated "significant" revenue through advertising, the DOJ said. The defendants allegedly collected more than $500,000 during the two-and-a-half-year life of the website.

During the last week in June 2010, just before federal agents shut down the website, NinjaVideo transmitted more than 940,000 movies and TV shows to its customers, the indictment said.

An undercover agent from Homeland Security Investigations' National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center downloaded 44 movies from NinjaVideo between December 2009 and June 2010, the indictment said. One of the movies had not yet been released in U.S. theaters, and 40 of the movies had been in theaters, but had not yet been released on DVD, according to the indictment.

The indictment, returned Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, charges Hana Amal Beshara, 29, of North Brunswick, New Jersey, and Matthew David Howard Smith, 23, of Raleigh, North Carolina, identified in the indictment as founders and administrators of NinjaVideo. Also charged were Joshua David Evans, 34, of North Bend, Washington, and Zoi Mertzanis, 36, a resident of Greece, alleged to be two of the most active uploaders of material to the site, and Jeremy Lynn Andrew, 33, of Eugene, Oregon, the alleged head of security for the website.

The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned on Sept. 16.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.


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