The sentence handed down to a social recluse whose internet piracy scam put the movie industry at risk of losing stg£120m should act as a warning to others engaged in such crimes, a judge said.
Paul Mahoney, aged 29, from Derry, made around £280,000 (€385,000) through advertising revenue generated from his illegal websites offering access to films and TV shows — many before general release. During the six-year period he operated the racket, the partially blind loner claimed around £12,000 in benefits.
Mahoney, who was sentenced at Derry Crown Court having pleaded guilty earlier to a series of offences — including conspiracy to defraud the film industry — will spend two years behind bars before being released on licence for two further years.
Some £82,400 in cash was found in the home where he lived with his mother when police searched the property in the Carnhill area of Derry.
The investigation against Mahoney was led by the Federation Against Copyright Theft and the PSNI.
Judge Philip Babington branded Mahoney’s scheme “cunning and clever”.
“These offences represent offending of a very serious nature, which undoubtedly put at risk many millions of pounds as far as the greater entertainment industry is concerned,” he said.
“Offending such as this affects everyone in society, at the end of the day, although primarily the interests of those involved in film production, the results of which we all enjoy.
“You put together a very sophisticated scheme which allowed users to view films on many millions of occasions for nothing and at the same time this allowed you to make money from advertising.”
The judge said such crimes had to be deterred and, therefore, he had no option but to send Mahoney to jail. “Criminal conduct of this nature must be deterred and there is no alternative but that this court imposes immediate sentences of imprisonment so as to show that behaviour of this nature does not go unpunished.”
Mahoney started his fraudulent business in 2007, and over the next six years changed his website name three times in a bid to evade detection. His websites offered users links to third-party servers on which illegal film and TV show copies had been uploaded.
He operated one of these servers himself and found content on others by using complex software which he paid criminal programmers to develop for him.
His defence team argued Mahoney was a recluse with health and psychological problems who lived in his bedroom “24/7” and whose only companion was the internet. His lawyers insisted he was not motivated by making money.
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