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Intellectual Property Rights

Maryland man pleads guilty to copyright infringement

WASHINGTON – A Maryland man charged with illegally reproducing and selling feature motion pictures pleaded guilty Friday to federal copyright infringement charges in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

John M. Harris, 34, of Bryans Road, Md., pleaded guilty to reproducing motion pictures without the permission of the copyright owners and then distributing them to vendors in the District of Columbia. Harris admitted to making copies of the motion pictures from June until October of 2011, using his own equipment and operating a factory from his residence. He admitted making 10 or more copies of three movies: Kung Fu Panda 2, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Bridesmaids.

On Oct. 8, 2011, HSI special agents executed a search of Harris' residence and seized more than 1,100 infringing copies of motion pictures as well as computers and other equipment. The copies of the films are valued at more than $20,000. Pursuant to federal law, it is anticipated that at the time of sentencing the court will order all of the infringing copies destroyed.

"As the new anti-piracy warning launched earlier this month states, piracy is not a victimless crime," said HSI Washington, D.C. Special Agent in Charge John P. Torres. "Piracy and other types of intellectual property rights theft threaten legitimate businesses and American jobs, which negatively impacts the economy."

Harris admitted selling the motion pictures he created to vendors at the Florida Avenue/D.C. Farmer's Market, in the 500 block of Neal Place NW.

Dream Works Animation owns the copyright to Kung Fu Panda 2, Walt Disney Studios owns the copyright to Pirates of the Caribbean, and Universal Pictures Corporation owns the copyright to Bridesmaids.

"John Harris churned out and sold pirated movies on an assembly-line scale," said U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald C. Machen Jr. "His crimes took money out of the pockets of the hard-working Americans who create the movies that we love. Copyright crimes may seem victimless, but they in fact kill American jobs, which makes it important to go after those who seek to profit from other people's labor."

Harris is to be sentenced Aug. 17 by Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan. The charge carries a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

This investigation was supported by the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington. The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. As a task force, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 20 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety, the U.S. economy and our war fighters.