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Facing 4-year prison term, Surfthechannel owner lashes out

After being sentenced to prison, Anton Vickerman takes to his Web site to condemn the British justice system, the film industry, journalists, and the jury.

Authorities in Great Britain sentenced Anton Vickerman to 4 years in prison, but the accused says a copyright group made false claims.
Greg Sandoval/CNET

Anton Vickerman wanted to make one final and lasting statement before going off to prison for copyright violations. It appears he won't get to even do that.

Vickerman, 38, was the operator of Surfthechannel.com, a Web site that provided links to unauthorized copies of TV shows and movies. A British court on Tuesday sentenced Vickerman to four years in prison. He is believed to be the first person in the United Kingdom to be incarcerated for linking to pirated material.

On the eve of going to prison, Vickerman decided to leave a message on Surfthechannel.com, but he was partially thwarted. The site has gone black. Still, the message can be found via Google cache. "My name is Anton Vickerman and I am the proud owner of the now dead video search engine SurfTheChannel.com," Vickerman wrote. "By the time you read this I will be starting my new life behind bars."

Founded in October 2007, Surfthechannel.com became a popular guide for people who wanted to access free content and began shifting towards streaming video that was stored in digital lockers. Vickerman says in his post that he linked to such places as YouTube, BBC iPlayer, and Veoh. What he didn't say is that the site also used to link to MegaUpload and other cloud-storage services that copyright owners accuse of profiting from piracy.

In his long post, Vickerman blamed the British justice system, the Motion Picture Association of America, Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) employees who he says are willing to "cheat, lie and break the law" for their employer, lazy British journalists who never once showed up at his trial and the jury.

Authorities say that at its height, Surfthechannel was drawing about 400,000 visitors a day and generating about 35,000 British pounds ($55,0000) a month.

"He is a convicted criminal, though he's entitled to say what he wants," a spokesman with FACT told The Guardian, a British publication. "But it should be remembered that this case has been through an eight-week criminal trial with a verdict decided by a jury."

The judge in that case found that Vickerman had uploaded files himself to Web sites and then linked back to them from his site and that his e-mails show that he knew he was not operating lawfully. The judge also noted that Vickerman took steps to hide where he resided and his identity as well as registering the domain outside the U.K. to avoid detection.