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Illegal file-sharer gets hit with 5-year prison sentence

A U.S. judge gives the leader of the IMAGiNE file-sharing group a record prison term for camcording movies in the theater and distributing them on the Web.

Convicted file-sharer Jeramiah Perkins has been handed the longest prison sentence even given in a U.S. file-sharing lawsuit: five years.

The 40-year-old man from Portsmouth, Va., was given the sentence today by U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen, according to Wired. During his lawsuit, Perkins pled guilty to conspiracy to commit copyright infringement by file-sharing movies, music, games, and more on the Internet.

Perkins -- a.k.a. Butch Perkins, Stash, and theestas -- is said to have been the head of a group that went to theaters, camcorded the movies, recorded the audio, synched the files, and then distributed the product on the Internet. The group, known as IMAGiNE, became one of the most prolific piracy release groups in the world between 2009 and 2011, according to Wired.

"The conspirators informally identified themselves as the IMAGiNE Group and sought, among other things, to be the premier group to first release to the Internet copies of new motion pictures only showing in movie theaters," IMAGiNE's indictment (pdf) reads. "It was further a part of the conspiracy to use computer software to digitally refine and to edit the video and audio portions of a motion picture and to combine or synchronize the two components into audiovisual movie files."

One of the goals of the group was to make movies available before the public release of DVDs, according to the indictment. IMAGiNE rented servers in France, Canada, and the U.S. and hosted several Web sites, such as "unleashthe.net." The Web sites included member profiles, a torrent tracker, discussion forums, a message board, news, and rules. The group got money through donations and payments from people downloading the copyrighted works. Among the movies known to have been pirated by IMAGiNE were, "Friends With Benefits," "Captain America: The First Avenger," and "Avatar."

U.S. courts have become considerably more strict in recent file-sharing cases. In November, illegal file-sharer Kywan Fisher was handed a whopping $1.5 million fine -- the largest BitTorrent damages award ever -- for sharing 10 movies on a file-sharing site. And the well-known case of Jammie Thomas, who was found liable for sharing 24 copyrighted songs on the Web, recently announced that she is taking her case to the Supreme Court because of the "crippling statutory damages" awarded by an appeals court.

Five members of Perkins cohort also pled guilty and have been handed prison sentences for being involved in IMAGiNE. According to Wired, co-defendant Gregory Cherwonik received 40 months, Sean Lovelady was given 23 months, Willie Lambert got 30 months, and the fifth defendant is scheduled to be sentenced in March.