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Intellectual Property Rights

Maryland man sentenced for criminal copyright infringement

Operated a DVD-burning factory from his residence, distributed pirated movies to vendors at the D.C. farmer's market

WASHINGTON – A Maryland man was sentenced today to six months in federal prison, to be followed by six months of home detention, for criminal copyright infringement. The sentence is the result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

John M. Harris, 35, of Bryans Road, Md., reproduced motion pictures without the permission of the copyright owners and then distributed them to vendors in the Washington-area.

"Harris and criminals like him threaten the livelihoods of the hardworking people who depend on compensation from copyrighted materials to support their families," said John P. Torres, special agent in charge of HSI Washington, D.C. "Those involved in intellectual property theft don't invest in product development; nor do they put a premium on product quality or safety. What they do is profit at someone else's expense. HSI and the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center will continue to target intellectual property pirates and those who traffic in stolen movies for their own profit."

"John Harris turned his home into a virtual factory, where he churned out pirated movies to make a profit for himself," said U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., District of Columbia. "He took money that should have gone to the many people actually responsible for the entertainment he sold. This prosecution demonstrates our resolve to protecting copyrights on movies and other products from those who want to cash in illegally."

Harris pleaded guilty in May 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Upon completion of his prison term and home detention, he will be placed on three years of supervised release. The court also ordered restitution to the copyright holders, the destruction of all infringing DVDs, and asset forfeiture of the equipment Harris utilized to produce them. This equipment included computers and 11 optical disk duplication towers, each capable of producing 10 DVDs simultaneously.

According to evidence presented to the court, Harris made copies of the motion pictures from June to October 2011, using DVD burning towers to operate a factory from his residence. In his plea, he admitted making 10 or more copies of three movies: Kung Fu Panda 2, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Bridesmaids, as well as hundreds of copies of other movie titles.

Harris also admitted selling the DVDs he created to vendors at the Florida Avenue D.C. Farmer's Market in the 500 block of Neal Place N.W. In an interview with law enforcement, Harris acknowledged burning between 600 and 1,000 movies a weekend and delivering them to the farmer's market. According to Harris, he charged 60 cents per DVD for the pirated movies.

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

On Oct. 8, 2011, HSI special agents executed a search of Harris's residence and seized more than 1,100 infringing copies of motion pictures as well as computers and other equipment. The copies of the pirated films – along with blank DVDs – would have been used to create more pirated movies with a manufacturer's suggested retail price of more than $47,000.

As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, HSI plays a leading role in targeting criminal organizations responsible for producing, smuggling and distributing counterfeit products. HSI focuses not only on keeping counterfeit products off our streets, but also on dismantling the criminal organizations behind such illicit activity.

The HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting/piracy. As a task force, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 21 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 the war fighters.

To report IP theft or to learn more about the IPR Center, visit www.IPRCenter.gov.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri L. Schornstein, District of Columbia, prosecuted this case on behalf of the U.S. government.