California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris has filed criminal charges against three San Francisco Bay Area brothers for allegedly operating an illegal website that allowed users to watch bootleg versions of copyrighted television shows and movies.
The three have each been charged with one count of conspiracy, four counts of receiving stolen property and one count of grand theft. They face up to five years in prison.
The case marks the first time a state attorney general has prosecuted a case involving a site providing access to illegal content that is primarily streaming and mobile-based. Previously, only trademark cases, such as ones involving DVDs, have been prosecuted by the state.
“Digital piracy is theft. It is a serious crime that harms one of California’s most important economic engines – our entertainment industry,” said Harris. “This case sends a clear message that the California Department of Justice will investigate digital piracy and prosecute violators to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Motion Picture Assn. of America began the investigation into Tony Hoang. He and his brothers allegedly launched mediamp4.com after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the MPAA in connection with two other sites they allegedly operated.
“The MPAA deeply appreciates the leadership of Attorney General Harris and her office in helping to combat websites that illegally profit from the creative content produced by the men and women of the American movie and television community,” MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd said in a statement.“There are now nearly 80 legal online services in the United States dedicated to providing movies and television shows to viewers. But to realize the enormous potential of these businesses and ensure an Internet that works for everyone, it is critical that government, content creators, the tech community and others work together to stop illegal rogue sites.”
Over the 18 months of the website’s operation, prosecutors said, the brothers earned approximately $150,000 in advertising revenue, allegedly generating traffic to the website through the Google search ads.
Subscribers could illegally access television shows like “How I Met Your Mother,” along with films such as “Black Swan,” “Tangled” and “Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows -- Part 1.”