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  1. Many up-and-coming pirates dream of one day being elite enough to become a member of The Scene, hoping to bathe in the collective mystery, kudos and notoriety it exudes. But for most, however, the headaches and stress would probably outweigh the benefits of this exclusive 'club'. Over the past two weeks ‘The Scene’, the individuals, groups, and entities that are often described as sitting at the top of the so-called ‘Piracy Pyramid’, has been thrust into the mainstream media. A US Government-led operation, carried out on several continents against the ‘Sparks Conspiracy‘, listed three individuals from the UK, US and Norway as the main targets of a massive investigation. What took place on the ground, however, ended up being something much, much bigger. While SPARKS and related groups GECKOS, DRONES, ROVERS and SPLINTERS were placed front and center, operations like this don’t and can’t operate in a vacuum. These groups were part of an organic network built up over years and, as such, their activities and members touched huge numbers of disparate yet interconnected individuals involved in the piracy world overall, not just ‘The Scene’ itself. One of the interesting things about The Scene is that over almost two decades, it has gained almost mythical status as an almost impossible-to-penetrate ‘place’ where only the most elite of pirates hang out. As a result, many people aspire to become a ‘member’ one day, hoping to bathe in the collective mystery, kudos and notoriety. What the unfolding events of the past two weeks have shown, however, is that The Scene is already much closer to regular pirates than most people might think, touching and even intermingling at some level with private and public torrent sites, streaming platforms, and similar services. For two weeks insiders have been happy to talk, presenting facts, ideas, theories and suggestions on what happened behind the headlines and who might have been involved or even responsible. Unfortunately, it’s not always information that makes for comfortable reading. More than once since the massive raids, names of particular Scene members and groups sucked into the investigation have been repeatedly mentioned by various sources. Who these people are in ‘real-life’ is a mystery but, over the years, pictures of what they might be like, largely based on their activities, are subconsciously formed by observers. Then, due to the ensuing chaos, it suddenly becomes apparent that not only is Group A the same as Group B and Group C, but also Person X, who people thought they knew under a very specific identity, is also Person Y and Person Z, all of whom have different and sometimes even conflicting online traits and personas. One of the problems (and there are many) is that Groups A to C and Persons X to Z all have their ‘own’ connections, trusted and valued by some but untrusted and even despised by others. In reality, it now transpires, they could all be inextricably linked via shared contacts, with many of those involved oblivious to what they’ve become part of. Add into the mix that Persons D and E, who may or may not have been previously arrested according to rumor, are very connected with many of the contacts of the individuals and groups listed above and way beyond. At this point, it’s very easy to visualize an extremely large network of people that might be just one step away from being arrested themselves having been completely compromised. If that’s not enough stress, someone then blurts out that a person who may have been previously and for years viewed as the mild-mannered janitor from the 70s cartoon Hong Kong Phooey, is now rumored to be the martial arts hound himself, undermining all previous perceptions and throwing all of the mental connections formed around them into chaos. Of course, many experienced members will be shouting that they knew all of this already but from the communications received from those further down the chain, echoes of “No, I didn’t know that,” and “Really? Shit…” shows that many people simply aren’t in the loop. And if everyone had been completely in the loop, lots of people wouldn’t have arrested recently. The admittedly-labored point is this: if people really must obtain all the latest movies and TV shows for free, doing it quietly via torrent sites etc seems much, much less stressful than getting tightly involved in The Scene or anyone close to it. Indeed, The Scene seems more of a complex lifestyle choice than a hobby for many participants, but one that could implode at any second. Action, adventure, and mystery probably sound like an exciting prospect to some but after reading dozens of emails and tip-offs plus pages of Scene chats containing accusations and potential bombshells (not to mention concern and speculation about who is who and what they might have said to whom), the term “mental exhaustion” springs to mind. You can laugh while fetching my cocoa and pipe if you like but at this time of life, when relaxing and quiet time is at a premium, too much involvement in The Scene sounds like an utterly exhausting not to mention precarious way to spend one’s time. Then again, some people like freefall skydiving and exploring pitch-black caves filled with muddy brown water. So, Godspeed to the intrepid and brave, just mind who packed your parachute and topped-up your oxygen bottle. Tonight, I’m watching Netflix instead. I’m fairly sure it won’t end too badly. Source: TorrentFreak
  2. One of the alleged key members of piracy group SPARKS has pleaded not guilty to US Government charges that he was involved in a conspiracy that cost movie companies tens of millions of dollars. Jonatan Correa, aka 'Raid', has been granted bail on a $75,000 bond with a number of conditions attached. On August 25, unofficial reports began to circulate that something big was underway in the top-tier piracy world known as The Scene. So-called topsites, the servers where masses of copyright-infringing content are stored, began shutting down globally as it became clear that law enforcement action was underway. Within hours, the US Department of Justice announced that three key members of the piracy groups known as SPARKS, GECKOS, DRONES and SPLiNTERS had been indicted, charged with a range of offenses connected to movie and TV show piracy. As reports of wider arrests filtered in from law enforcement entities in Europe, the status of the indicted trio was clarified in the United States. George Bridi, 50, a citizen of Great Britain, had been detained in Cyprus on an INTERPOL Red Notice. Norway resident Umar Ahmad (aka ‘Artist’), 39, was still at large. Jonatan Correa (aka ‘Raid’), 36, had been arrested on US soil in Olathe, Kansas, and placed into custody. Jonatan Correa (aka ‘Raid’) The USDOJ alleges that Correa was involved in the ‘Sparks Conspiracy’ (the collective name for the prosecution) from around January 2011 through to August 2020. This differs from the charges against Bridi and Ahmad, whose ‘conspiracy’ charges run from January 2011 to January 2020. The reasons for this remain unclear. All three are charged with causing “tens of millions of dollars” in losses to film production studios. According to a superseding indictment, Correa and the others fraudulently obtained copies of discs containing movies and TV shows in advance of their official release dates. It is further claimed that Correa remotely accessed a computer belonging to a co-conspirator in Westchester County in order to “illegally record and reproduce” copyrighted TV shows. At this stage, the identity of this alleged co-conspirator is being kept under wraps by the authorities. While Correa’s co-defendants face additional charges including wire fraud and transporting stolen property, Correa faces a single charge of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement. Correa Arrested, Quickly Released, Pleads Not Guilty After being arrested in Kansas on August 25 at 07:00, court records reveal that Correa was presented before the Kansas district court on August 26 and released the very same day. Other documents that might offer additional information persistently return a “not found” error on records portal PACER, while access to others is simply denied. However, additional detail is available relating to Correa’s status and plea. Records indicate that Correa was released on bail with a $75,000 bond, secured by cash or property. His release comes with pre-trial supervision conditions, including that he must surrender all travel documents and submit to a ban on all new travel document applications. In addition, Correa has agreed to participate in a drug testing and treatment program and is forbidden from possessing firearms, other weapons, or any “destructive devices”. He is further ordered to abstain from contact with co-defendants and witnesses, with conditions. “Defendant shall have no contact with any co-defendant, witnesses known to Defendant, or any other members of the Sparks Group without the presence of counsel,” a bail document reads, adding that Correa must not engage in any of the conduct alleged in his charging document either. Perhaps most importantly of all, exactly one week ago on September 1, 2020, Correa appeared remotely before United States Magistrate Judge James L. Cott and was arraigned on the superseding indictment. Correa pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. Whether that position will change later down the line remains to be seen but right now, his alleged co-conspirators don’t yet appear to be in US custody. Alleged Co-Conspirators Bridi and Ahmad According to the most recent official information, Ahmad (Artist) is reportedly still at large, perhaps in Norway, while Bridi is located some 5,500 miles away from New York on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea. Since the unsealing of his indictment and from the filings made available to date, Ahmad hasn’t been mentioned in court documents. In respect of Bridi, however, the US Government has requested and obtained multiple certified copies of his indictment and arrest warrant for the “purposes of extraditing the defendant to the United States.” When that will take place is unknown but at least as far as Correa’s cases is concerned, Acting United States Attorney Audrey Strauss told the court last week that the parties are currently in discussion over discovery and a pre-trial disposition. A conference has been set for October 26, 2020, for these discussions to continue. As previously reported, the action against SPARKS has negatively affect pirated releases from The Scene, with a steep decline observed in volumes of content being made available. Source documents here (1,2,3) Source: TorrentFreak
  3. More than a week has passed since a US Government enforcement action hit the piracy scene hard. The release group SPARKS was the main target but, directly and indirectly, many other pirate groups were affected as well. Now that the dust is settling, we take a look at how the actions impacted the flow of new releases. Every day, millions of people download or stream pirated content including movies, TV-shows, games, MP3s, and books. Many of these files originate from a small and tightly organized ‘community’ commonly known as The Scene, which is made up of dozens of smaller ‘release groups.’ These groups tend to operate in the shadows with little or no public profile. At least, that’s what the unwritten rules dictate. That’s for good reason as the people involved risk high prison sentences when caught. The SPARKS Raids It’s very rare for Scene group members to get busted but last week the US Government claimed a major victory. With help from international law enforcement partners, several raids and arrests were carried out, with the SPARKS group at the center of it all. The first reports on a possible law enforcement action trickled in last Tuesday and a day later the US Department of Justice confirmed that three people had been indicted. Based on the ‘copyright infringement conspiracy’ charges, all face long sentences. The main defendants were hit the hardest but the effects of last week’s actions are much broader. As mentioned earlier, dozens of topsites are believed to be taken down in the raids and many more halted their operations as a precaution. In piracy circles, people regularly bring up the “hydra,” a mythical multi-headed creature that can easily regenerate when a head is chopped off. However, last week’s busts are also reminiscent of another Greek mythology: Achilles’ heel. Scene Releases Drop As soon as the first rumors about the raids started spreading on Tuesday, the number of Scene releases started to drop. A day later, when confirmation came in, it became even quieter. With data provided by Predb.org we take a closer look at these dropoffs, showing that some categories are affected more than others. Before delving into detailed groups, it’s worth pointing out the overall impact, which can be summarized in two numbers. On Wednesday, August 19, there were 1944 new releases. A week later, a day after the first raids, this number was down to 168 releases. The drop in new releases happened across all categories. Below is a line graph showing the most popular “TV-X64” category where the date of the raids is clearly visible. TV-X64 releases before and after raid In the days after the raids, there were just a few dozen new releases at most compared to many hundreds a week earlier. A similar trend can be observed in other categories, such as Anime, X264 (movies), and XXX, shown below. Anime, X264 and XXX releases before and after raid There are clearly fewer releases after the raids, but there are still some. The same can’t be said for other categories such as Games and Ebooks, where nothing new came out in the days after the raids. Game and Ebook releases before and after the raids Looking more closely at individual release groups in TV and movie categories shows that some have ‘disappeared’ completely. For example, the group TRUMP previously released dozens of new shows a week. After the raids, however, nothing new appeared. Time will tell if things will eventually recover or if the effects are lasting. With that in mind, we’ll close with the MP3 category, where signs of recovery are visible. After an initial drop, a new two-week record of over 800 releases was set the Sunday after the raid, suggesting that groups were catching up. Source: TorrentFreak
  4. Last week a massive law enforcement operation against members of The Scene unfolded, targeting release group SPARKS and their affiliates. In a brand new communication released this morning, a Scene entitity reveals that the action took down dozens of sites across 14 countries. It further predicts that more is yet to come and that security needs to be addressed. Last Tuesday, exactly one week ago, unofficial reports began to surface that enforcement action was underway targeting groups and members of ‘The Scene’, the tight-knit entities that are often described as sitting at the top of the so-called ‘Piracy Pyramid’. As the hours began to pass, it was clear the initial reports were true. The unsealing of indictments in the United States, some dating back to January, later revealed that the US Government had homed in on at least three key members of the connected movie and TV show release groups SPARKS, GECKOS, DRONES, ROVERS and SPLiNTERS. On Tuesday, Wednesday and subsequent days, chaos in The Scene was widespread. The USDOJ revealed that an operation was underway on three continents, with law enforcement partners in 18 countries carrying out raids and seizures, declaring that around 60 servers had been taken down. Unofficial reports indicated that the activity was centered on Europe, particularly in Nordic countries, with Eurojust and Europol deeply involved in the operation. New ‘Scene Notice’ – As Close as it Gets to a ‘Scene’ News Release Since then, communication from inside The Scene itself has been sporadic at best but this morning the existence of a so-called ‘Scene Notice’ was revealed on public sites known as ‘pre-databases’. This notice, basically a text file in .NFO format, reveals some interesting information from an insider’s perspective. So-called ‘Scene Notices’ are relatively rare, certainly when compared to the number of content releases put out by The Scene itself. When they do appear, however, they often carry security-related information, decrying one group or other for being insecure or perhaps accusing certain entities of behavior that could undermine operations. Sometimes it’s possible to identify who writes these bulletins (groups or individuals) but in today’s case, the author is unknown. Titled “Scene_busts_And_Mitigations”, we reproduce quotes from it here, with some tidying but with grammatical errors intact. It begins by noting that the purpose of the notice is to shed light on what it describes as the “whole corona era bust”, aka the action against SPARKS and its affiliates. According to the notice, the action was indeed significant and could even be ongoing. “The scene has been hit hard by various agencies from around the globe. Totaling over 29 sites has been busted within 14 country’s, mostly within Europe. As from the looks now it is certain to say that the bust took a big bite out of the ISO scene. Without a doubt, this will not be the last of it since there will be more information available for the feds to chunk through now,” it reads. Indeed, from initial reports on Tuesday, through Wednesday and the rest of last week, we received various reports of continuing actions, most of which were hard or impractical to confirm. It seems logical to conclude, however, that as the authorities scooped up additional individuals suspected of crimes, plus their hardware and perhaps even their cooperation, more and more opportunities for further operations raised their heads. Some sources suggest that the number of sites taken down could already be closer to 50 than 30, but official details are hard to come by. Possible Compromise of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) While many in the lower (sometimes even just slightly lower) echelons of the piracy world now communicate via newer platforms that can include Telegram or Discord, for example, The Scene itself has always had a preference for IRC, aka Internet Relay Chat. Somewhat archaic by today’s pretty GUI-driven chat interface standards, IRC is relatively inaccessible to newcomers but that, and its improved security, have kept it popular with The Scene year after year. However, according to the just-published Scene notice, an aspect of one particular IRC network may have been compromised. “Rumors has it that there was a bust in France from a known user that was also running an IRC server for the linknet IRC network. This is not confirmed nor denied,” it notes. “So please use linknet only with the common security practices (SSL, Blowfish, Channel encryption,” it adds, referring to what should be common security practices, irrespective of whether a raid has happened or is expected in the future. “This rumor should not be taken lightly and it’s advised to keep sites off linknet and use private IRCD [IRC daemon] for any site related actions if possible.” Advice For ‘SiteOps’ and ‘Currys’ Advice for ‘siteops’, or site operators, is also included in the notice. Mostly technical in nature, it again offers tips on keeping platforms secure. Much of it is fairly obvious, such as moving, renaming and otherwise obscuring sites if they hosted any of the groups that were busted. The same goes for ‘currys’, otherwise known as couriers. These groups and/or individuals are involved in the distribution of Scene release to other platforms within the Scene. To carry out their roles, they necessarily have access to a number of sites, so it’s advised that they “avoid insecure sites or sites that are ignoring the security measures.” Again, pretty obvious stuff but it is possible that the less experienced will attempt to carry on as normal. The Future and Recovery of The Scene There’s a general consensus, based on history, that even following seismic events such as the ones witnessed last week, The Scene will eventually recover. The notice acknowledges that “it will take time” to get everything back and running which is perhaps underplaying how serious things are at the moment. Nevertheless, it states that the information was put together for the “love of the scene.” “[W]e will [be] back and we will thrive again! Thoughts are with the fallen ones,” it concludes. Again, it’s unclear who authored this notice, whether they hold any position of authority, or whether any of the mitigation suggestions will have any meaningful effect on the recovery rate of The Scene. In any event, it seems unlikely that normal business will be resumed any time soon since trust and stability, The Scene’s most valuable commodities, are currently its most scarce. Source: TorrentFreak
  5. The raids and arrests this week targeting piracy release group SPARKS have caused chaos in The Scene, with members and groups going into hiding and new releases dropping like a stone. The targeting of just one group shouldn't have such a massive effect but it seems probable that in the weeks and months to come, we'll learn that one weak spot can be exploited to undermine a much larger infrastructure. This Tuesday, TorrentFreak received more rapid-fire anonymous tips than we have done in recent memory. Demanding confidentiality is nothing new but tipsters and sources using anonymous mailers, obscured IP addresses, alongside repeat requests that identities aren’t revealed, usually point to something particularly unusual. And indeed, something unusual was definitely underway. Late Tuesday, documents filed under seal in the United States as early as January 2020 were suddenly unsealed, revealing one of the most important piracy-related cases of the past decade. As detailed in our report yesterday, a case brought by the US Government resulted in a Grand Jury charging at least three members of several and related top-tier ‘Scene’ release groups – SPARKS, GECKOS, DRONES, ROVERS and SPLiNTERS – with conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and other crimes. The US case has been ongoing for many months and the investigation certainly longer. Exactly how long was unknown until yesterday when a Swedish prosecutor revealed that it had been underway “for years”. However, What took us by surprise was the volume of reports on Tuesday, the claims of panic and fear in ‘The Scene’ globally, and what now appears to be a significant reduction of releases of all kinds from what is usually a prolific and cascading ‘Piracy Pyramid’ system. Initial Information Proved Correct People closely involved in The Scene are naturally secretive, or at least that’s the mandate. The truth is that some are prepared to talk but everyone is so scared of being caught by the authorities or labeled by fellow members as insecure, that truly verifiable sources are extremely hard to come by. As a result, reporting the finer details becomes a product of overlapping independent sources, none of whom want to be identified, which isn’t ideal. Nevertheless, during Tuesday we were told by multiple sources that topsites and warez-affiliated members and resources were being targeted by law enforcement, anti-piracy groups, or a combination of both in many regions. What they all had in common was that the entities were affiliated with SPARKS and various topsites. Another recurring theme was the focus on Nordic countries as being at the heart of action. Many countries were mentioned, including the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Poland but, again and again, the reports cited both Norway and Sweden as potentially the main ‘problem’ areas. US Department of Justice Began Talking Yesterday In an official announcement Wednesday, following the initial yet unofficial reports of raids 24 hours earlier and after the unsealing of the indictments, the USDOJ revealed the global scale of the operation against SPARKS and its affiliates. “Thanks to the efforts of HSI, the Postal Inspection Service, Eurojust, Europol, and our law enforcement partners in 18 countries on three continents, key members of this group are in custody, and the servers that were the pipeline for wholesale theft of intellectual property are now out of service,” the announcement read. The US revealed that law enforcement authorities in many countries assisted in the investigation against SPARKS including those in Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Republic of Korea, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. SPARKS member George Bridi, 50, was reportedly arrested on Sunday in Cyprus on an INTERPOL Red Notice. Correa (aka ‘Raid’), 36, was arrested Tuesday in Olathe, Kansas, where he will appear in federal court. Umar Ahmad (aka ‘Artist’), 39, was not arrested and as of Wednesday was reportedly still at large, according to the US Government. The Nordic Connection Several pieces of information received by TF during Tuesday indeed placed someone known as ‘Artist’ as a central and important figure in the action taking place. Umar Ahmad is now officially named as that key person but according to his indictment, the US Government is not seeking to prosecute him for SPARKS-related offenses beyond January 2020. That’s also the case for George Bridi, an indicted co-defendant whose alias is currently unknown. The only SPARKS defendant charged with offenses up to August 2020 is Jonatan Correa, aka ‘Raid’. While there is room for speculation as to what may have happened here, it seems somewhat reasonable to conclude (at least given the charges) that Ahmad and Bridi stopped their alleged offending months ago. However, according to records kept by Scene-watching sites (known as pre-databases), SPARKS-related groups continued releasing content online until fairly recently. That aside, what we can confirm today is that Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service, commonly known as Kripos, carried out raids at several premises this week and seized computer equipment on what is being described as a “large scale”. In addition, three men – who are yet to be named but are in their 30s and 40s – were arrested and charged for breaches of Norway’s Copyright Act. It is not currently known whether 39-year-old Oslo-resident Umar Ahmad is among them. Danish authorities have also confirmed that four men, aged between 35 and 48, had their homes searched and were subsequently charged with copyright infringement offenses. Servers and other pieces of IT equipment were seized. Source: Some Warning Signs Were Spotted a While Ago It’s certainly possible that SPARKS members were absolutely oblivious to the US Government’s investigation but according to one difficult-to-verify source, who insisted on anonymity but spoke with us at length and in considerable detail, this year and “before COVID”, some Scene members were questioning why a particular SPARKS member had suddenly “retired”. We are not publishing that member’s name here (which we believe was provided to us in advance of the unsealing of the US indictment) but according to the same source, another possibly-connected mystery was still lingering. The source alleges that some months earlier an individual connected to a separate yet prominent release group also “went afk” and suddenly stopped providing content. Again, we aren’t publishing the name of that group or the nickname of the person involved but we can confirm that the alleged group stopped releasing several months before the end of 2019. This led to rumors that one or both may have been compromised and hadn’t just taken a break. The relevance is that, according to the same insider, the pair (coincidentally or not) are believed to have shared the same content sources. Again, this is unconfirmed information but the first group has never returned to action and the second has the US Government on the attack after uncovering where it was obtaining its DVD and Blu-Ray discs from. Significant Legal Action in Sweden After receiving initial information, which was later confirmed by the USDOJ, that significant action had taken place in Sweden. On Tuesday, we spoke with Jon Karlung, the owner of ISP Bahnhof, which we were informed may have been visited by the authorities investigating SPARKS. That turned out not to be the case. Karlung told us that nobody had visited the company nor requested information. However, he said that with 400,000 households and 10,000 companies as clients, plus the company’s sale of bandwidth capacity to other ISPs, he couldn’t rule out that someone way down the chain, even a client of someone else, may have been visited. Whether connected to this specific ISP or not, multiple sources informed us that at least one topsite affiliated with multiple groups utilized a high-bandwidth home link in Sweden, with another topsite connected to multiple groups also seized in the country. What we know from official sources is that there were 14 house searches carried out in Sweden on Tuesday, including in Umeå, Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm. No one was arrested during the raids but according to prosecutor Johanna Kolga, more servers were seized in Sweden than anywhere else. Netherlands Action and the Existence of MLATs Finding information about what happened in the Netherlands led us to Tim Kuik of anti-piracy group BREIN. We put it to him that if anyone in the country knows anything about the case, it must be him. Like most other people, Kuik wasn’t budging on detail. But he did offer a plausible explanation for the silence. “It is an interesting case indeed. It is entirely possible for so-called MLATs to be carried out on the request of say US law enforcement and the Dutch authorities carrying it out without informing any private stakeholders,” Kuik told us. “In such cases it may be so that stakeholders abroad, who may have filed a criminal complaint for example, have been made aware and would not be at liberty to say anything about it. So nobody is likely to comment I think. But you can always try. I have no comment.” Later, however, Eurojust – the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation – confirmed that it “helped transmit and facilitate the execution of over 30 Mutual Legal Assistance requests and Letters of Request necessary for taking down the servers and executing searches..” In all, over 60 servers were taken down in North America, Europe and Asia and “several main suspects” were arrested, the agency added. Interesting Allegations, Few New Releases, and Kevin Bacon Over the past 48+ hours, TF has been provided with a list of topsites and related infrastructure that has either been raided or taken down as a precautionary measure. The dozen-plus platforms will therefore remain unnamed, as we simply cannot determine which of the platforms are offline voluntarily, or down because they have been seized. This leads us to why so many sites and other key pieces of infrastructure have disappeared, apparently just because one group was targeted. The reasons, we are told, are complex but can be boiled down to the number of connections SPARKS had in The Scene. One recurring theme is that one of SPARKS’ members is claimed to have become quite influential and as a result may have “extended his tentacles too far”, as one source framed it. These connections, with many other groups and activities, may go some way to explaining why The Scene all but shut down Tuesday. If we take Bacon’s Law and apply it here, the response makes complete sense. Nevertheless, the scale of the shutdown is unusual, to say the least, and only time will tell if The Scene will fully recover. For the average torrent or streaming site user, a period of reduced new content availability might be on the horizon but history shows us that rarely lasts for long and that the cycle will probably begin again, once people have figured out who they can trust. Source: TorrentFreak
  6. The top-tier piracy world known as The Scene is in turmoil after the unsealing of US indictments targeting key members of release group SPARKS and several linked affiliate groups including GECKOS, DRONES, ROVERS and SPLINTERS. Sources inform TF that there were several raids across Europe yesterday, mainly focused on Norway and Sweden. Yesterday morning, TorrentFreak began receiving reports from multiple sources that something big was happening in the shadowy world of top-tier piracy known as ‘The Scene’. From the volumes of information received, the majority of sources indicated that many so-called ‘topsites’ and their members had disappeared or gone into hiding. The word was that several major movie release groups – SPARKS, GECKOS and DRONES – had been targeted in a series of raids and as a result, people were running for cover. Precisely where these raids or actions took place still isn’t entirely clear. Multiple sources point to the Nordic region, particularly Norway and Sweden, but reports of disruption and/or action in the Netherlands and even Switzerland persisted across our confidential sources, all of whom demand anonymity. Importantly, one name kept cropping up – ‘Artist’ – someone who was identified by at least two individuals with inside knowledge as a central figure, not only in The Scene but also in the action that appeared to unfold yesterday. The reality, it now transpires, is that the events of Tuesday had their roots in an investigation that started months – maybe even years ago. US Govt Legal Action Launched in January 2020 – George Bridi On January 8, 2020, an indictment in the case United States v. BRIDI was filed and sealed in a New York district court. Yesterday, as the action in Europe was unfolding, Magistrate Judge Debra C. Freeman ordered the indictment to be unsealed, shining significant light on the events of Tuesday. The indictment and Grand Jury charges target George Bridi, a British national who, according to the US Government, resided in the Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England. Bridi is identified, along with others “known and unknown”, as a member of a criminal conspiracy, aka release group SPARKS and its affiliates. His Scene nickname, if he has one, is not listed in the available documents. Nevertheless, the US Government claims to know much about his activities. “The primary objective of the Sparks Group was to fraudulently obtain DVDs and Blu-Ray discs for copyrighted movies and television shows prior to their retail release date, compromise the copyright protections on the discs, reproduce and upload the copyrighted content to servers controlled by the Sparks Group, and disseminate the copyrighted content on the Internet for public consumption before the DVDs and Blu-Ray discs were made available for sale by retailers to the public,” Bridi’s indictment reads. The ‘conspiracy’, at least in the case of Bridi, was alleged to taken place from around 2011 until January 2020. It’s claimed that members of SPARKS made various “material misrepresentations and omissions” to wholesale distributors in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey in order to obtain copies of DVDs and Blu-Ray discs prior to their official release. The indictment indicates that Bridi was also involved in obtaining and reproducing TV show content. Once obtained, members of SPARKS allegedly used specialist software to “rip” the discs in order to remove their copyright protections and then encoded the content into a format easily consumed via the Internet. This content was then uploaded to servers controlled by SPARKS members, from where it’s alleged other members further distributed the content to streaming sites, torrent networks and other servers. Adding to the information received yesterday by TF indicating that SPARKS, GECKOS and DRONES were central to Tuesday’s turmoil, the indictment adds two other release groups to the list – ROVERS and SPRINTER – both claimed to be part of the ‘Sparks Conspiracy’. Bridi is charged with conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to transport stolen property interstate. Superseding Indictment – Umar Ahmad, aka ‘Artist’ In addition to information received early yesterday by TF, with multiple sources referencing someone called ‘Artist’ involved in a central role, unsealed court documents now put more flesh on the bones. Identified by the US Government as Oslo, Norway, resident ‘Umar Ahmad’, it’s alleged that from around 2011 up to January 2020, ‘Artist’ was also a member of the ‘Sparks Conspiracy’. In common with Bridi, he is alleged to have caused “tens of millions of dollars” in losses to film production studios by being part of the SPARKS group that obtained physical discs from wholesale distribution companies, ripped and encoded them, and placed the content on the Internet for public consumption. Along with Bridi, he faces charges of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement but charges of wire fraud and transporting stolen property are absent. Superseding Indictment – Jonatan Correa, aka ‘Raid’ Like Bridi and Ahmad, it’s alleged that Correa was involved in the ‘Sparks Conspiracy’ from around 2011 but his involvement is said to have stretched beyond the January 2020 dates listed in their Grand Jury charges by several months, to August 2020. For reasons that aren’t yet entirely clear, he appears to have carried on his alleged criminal activity until this month, unlike his peers who are only charged with offenses up to the first month of 2020. Correa’s charges read very much like Bridi’s and Ahmad’s, in that he stands accused of being part of the ‘Sparks Conspiracy’ that unlawfully obtained, ripped, encoded and uploaded video content to the Internet, including to various servers, streaming and torrent sites, all in advance of their official street date. “On numerous occasions between in or around 2011 and in or around May 2020 , a co-conspirator not named herein fraudulently arranged for discs containing copyrighted films and television shows to be picked up, mailed, or delivered from distributors located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and British Columbia, Canada to other members of the Sparks Group, including JONATAN CORREA, a/k/a ‘Raid,’ the defendant, prior to their official release date…,” Correa’s indictment reads. It’s further alleged that around 2011 and in or around May 2020, Correa “remotely accessed” a computer located in Westchester County and belonging to another unnamed co-conspirator, in order to “illegally record and reproduce” copyrighted TV shows. While Bridi and Ahmad’s locations are revealed in court documents, Correa’s currently remains unknown. Like Bridi, he faces charges of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement but in common with Ahmad, charges of wire fraud and transporting stolen property are absent. Supporting Reports and Information TorrentFreak is currently liaising with a number of sources who for security reasons are demanding anonymity. However, it appears that the information detailed thus far is just the tip of a large iceberg that has much of The Scene in turmoil and/or in hiding. What we can say at this point is that the mention of Umar Ahmad, aka ‘Artist’, is causing considerable concern because of his alleged reach in The Scene that seems to go well beyond SPARKS and its affiliated groups. We’ll have more on this in a follow-up report but in the meantime the US court documents can be found here (1,2,3 pdf) Source: TorrentFreak
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