A Los Angeles federal grand jury Wednesday indicted five men in four countries on federal charges alleging they distributed or offered for sale stolen digital versions of hundreds of films and television shows — including “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Expendables 3” and “The Walking Dead” — prior to their official release.
According to the indictment, members of the hacking conspiracy broke into computer systems used by Hollywood film production companies and stole digital files, including feature films, trailers, TV series episodes and audio tracks.
The ring put the stolen files on a server in France, which contained more than 25,000 motion picture-related files, including the feature films “Godzilla,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and “Horrible Bosses 2,” according to federal prosecutors.
The defendants also illicitly acquired copies of films by other means, including recording cinema screenings and obtaining copies of movies distributed to industry professionals, according to the indictment, which outlines criminal conduct beginning in early 2013 and continuing into the spring of 2015.
Once they obtained the movies and other content, the defendants allegedly altered the properties of the computer files to make it easier to distribute online. According to the indictment, they offered the stolen motion picture files for sale via private electronic communications, but they also uploaded stolen titles onto pirate movie websites. The defendants used shared a PayPal account to receive and distribute money from the sale of the pirated motion pictures, the indictment alleges.
In February 2015, one of the defendants allegedly told a prospective buyer that the ring would be offering copies of the films “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” for sale on the same day as their U.S. theatrical release.
The named defendants are:
— Malik Luqman Farooq, a 30-year-old resident of the United Kingdom, who allegedly sold more than a dozen stolen pre-release or contemporaneous-release films over a period of two years. Farooq was previously arrested by London police on related charges and is awaiting trial in the U.K.;
— Aditya Raj, who’s believed to reside in India and allegedly released pirated movies on the internet and helped arrange for the camcording of various films in India;
— Sam Nhance, believed to reside in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, who allegedly procured and maintained the computer server on which the co-conspirators stored and manipulated digital files for further distribution;
— Ghobhirajah Selvarajah, believed to reside in Malaysia, who was the registered owner of a PayPal account that the co-conspirators allegedly used to receive payment for sales of films and to pay for the storage server for the group; and
— Jitesh Jadhav, also believed to reside in India, and alleged to have camcorded films in India that were sold by other members of the conspiracy, including “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
The co-conspirators are also alleged to have previously operate a website used to distribute pirated Bollywood films, known as “BollyTNT.”
The defendants, who are not in U.S. custody, are named in a seven-count indictment that charges them with conspiracy to commit computer fraud, unauthorized access to a computer, aggravated identity theft and copyright infringement.
The conspiracy, computer hacking and copyright violation charges each carry sentences of up to five years in federal prison. The charges of aggravated identity theft carry a mandatory two-year sentence to run consecutive to any other sentence imposed in the case, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.