3 Frightening Things About the Philip Danks' case, jailed for movie piracy
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UK citizen Philip Danks, 25, was sentenced last week to three years in prison for pirating Fast & Furious 6.
There are three frightening things about his case that demonstrate the power of Hollywood to prosecute copyright infringement cases across the globe.
1. Danks was prosecuted by a private prosecutor. In the United States, private prosecution in criminal proceedings is not allowed. In the UK, however, a private entity may initiate and prosecute criminal charges with supervision from state authority. Danks was prosecuted by Ari Alibhaid on behalf of an organization called The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT). FACT is effectively a conglomeration of the biggest Hollywood studios like Disney, Fox and Paramount. It pressures courts and governments to institute anti-piracy proceedings throughout the world.
2. Danks was caught by a private investigative group. Danks was caught by Universal's so-called "webwatch team" after he used his pirate username, TheCod3r, on the dating website Plenty Of Fish. He also solicited pirated copies of Fast & Furious 6 and other films on his social media accounts. Universal (most likely through FACT) then induced local police to raid Danks' home and arrest him.
3. Danks made only £1,000 on sales of the pirated material, while Universal claims to have lost £2.3m. FACT claims that 779,000 people were able to download Danks' version of Fast & Furious 6, which would have resulted in £2.3m in ticket sales. The sentencing judge cited the harm to the motion picture industry as justification for the severity of the punishment. "I accept the personal profit was modest but the real seriousness of this case is the loss caused to the film industry as a whole."
After his arrest, Danks posted the following status update on Facebook.
To be sure, Danks did something wrong, and acted incredibly stupidly while doing it. He should not have bootlegged Fast & Furious 6. He should not have posted about it on social media. And he should not have used his pirate username on a dating website. He did damage the film industry, and he did steal Universal's creative product and sell it for personal gain.
FACT's computation that Danks cost Universal £2.3m may seem ludicrous. Many of the illegal downloaders would simply not have paid to see Fast & Furious 6, particularly when movie ticket prices are at an all time high (even adjusted for inflation). However, part of the reason for high ticket prices is the problem of piracy, and FACT's £2.3m number also includes lost rental profits.
Thus, Danks case isn't so frightening because it resulted in cruel and unusual punishment for a harmless crime, but because it proves that Hollywood corporations are able to use local courts as marionettes to conduct criminal proceedings against individuals that harm their capital interests.
Danks was not prosecuted by the government for harming another citizen or disturbing the public good. His actions may have been harmful, but not to the citizens of the community in which he was prosecuted, nor even to the citizens of the UK as a whole. His actions were harmful to a corporation in Los Angeles.
Danks' home was infiltrated by police who were effectively working for FACT. That Danks' case was initiated and prosecuted by a conglomerate of wealthy corporations, assisted by local courts and local police, should be a daunting prospect for individuals across the globe.
CLARIFICATION: There was confusion about the headline so let me clarify. Danks was not just a "pirate" in the sense that he downloaded the film. He went into the theater (twice) and recorded the film, then sold copies of it for personal profit. His crime was much more severe than simple downloading. Still, the question of private prosecutions discussed herein is important
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