By Jonathan Stempel
NEWYORK -A British man has been extradited to the United States to face charges he was involved in a global piracy ring that distributed movies and television shows online before their scheduled release dates, causing major losses for production studios.
George Bridi, 51, pleaded not guilty to three conspiracy charges in federal court in Manhattan on Wednesday.
Bridi, who has lived on the Isle of Wight in England, entered his plea one day after being extradited from Cyprus, where he had been arrested in August 2020, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in Manhattan.
A lawyer for Bridi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bridi and two other men were charged over their work for the Sparks Group, which allegedly leaked movies and TV shows, including nearly every movie from major production studios, over nearly a decade by circumventing their copyright protections.
Prosecutors said Sparks obtained advance copies of copyrighted DVDs and Blu-Ray discs from wholesale distributors in the New York area by making up reasons for needing them.
Sparks then used computers to compromise the discs’ copyright protections, known as “cracking” or “ripping,” and recoded the discs so they could be shared easily online, prosecutors said.
According to Bridi’s indictment, the reproduced content was tagged with such names as “Sparks,” “Drones,” “Rovers,” “Geckos” and “Sprinter.”
Film production studios lost tens of millions of dollars from the piracy, prosecutors said.
Dozens of Sparks servers were taken offline around the world in August 2020, when Bridi and his co-defendants were charged.
Bridi was charged with conspiring to commit copyright infringement, wire fraud and transporting stolen property interstate, and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Another defendant, Jonatan Correa, pleaded guilty to a copyright infringement conspiracy charge and was sentenced in May to 2-1/4 years of supervised release, court records show. The third defendant, Umar Ahmad of Norway, remains at large.