BPI Shuts Down Pirates

What’s reportedly one of the U.K.’s biggest piracy operations has been shut down and three of the ringleaders were given jail sentences.

James Glen Cowan, his wife Ann Cowan, and Andrew Wood ran their counterfeit production business behind what appeared to be an ordinary family-run film rental store called Video Drive.

Behind the shop front and the local video store was the HQ for a racket the British Phonographic Industry reckons to have been earning tens of thousands of pounds a week.

The Cowans had converted their family home and caravan on the local Crimdon Dene Park, a site that would normally be used by visiting holidaymakers, into ad-hoc factories capable of producing hundreds of counterfeit CDs and DVDs every hour.

Cowan and his wife were found guilty of running a criminal operation after a private BPI action heard at Durham Crown Court in November.

Passing sentence in the same court on March 30th, His Honour Judge Hewitt said, "It is clear that this was a substantial operation, on a much greater scale than just friends and family. It caused an incalculable loss to the industry and would have continued had the industry not taken this action."

James Glen Cowan, 41, was jailed for two years for conspiracy to defraud, tax evasion and benefit fraud.

His wife, Ann, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, up to £30,000 of benefit fraud and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

She was given a nine-month sentence but Judge Hewitt suspended it for 12 months and told her that she only avoided prison because she was the mother of two young children. She was also ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid community work.

Andrew Wood, 36, who owned the Video Drive premises, pleaded guilty in January and was jailed for 12 months for conspiracy to defraud and tax evasion.

Confiscation proceedings, which will strip them of their assets, are under way and due to be heard in court in July 2007.

The BPI brought the private prosecution after a routine operation led to the unveiling of what it suspected to be an extensive and sophisticated counterfeiting operation.

It worked closely with The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), whose investigators assisted with the police raids and gave evidence.

Welcoming the sentences, BPI general counsel Roz Groome said, "We work very closely with the authorities to tackle IP crime and we welcome the government’s recently announced legislative changes which will give Trading Standards the power to protect copyright and prosecute those who engage in this illegal activity."

This is the first BPI private case since Paul Canning and Mark Bailey, also from the north East, each got 3.5-year prison sentences in April 2005 for their role in masterminding a 10-strong gang that reportedly earned £1.2 million from a counterfeiting scam.