How Hollywood-funded corporate vigilantes in the UK shut down SURF THE CHANNEL and sent its owner to jail

Anton Vickerman is a British entrepreneur who operated a search-engine called "Surf the Channel," indexed links to online video content. After an estranged former business-partner filed a complaint, he was targetted by FACT, the UK branch of the Motion Picture Association of America (a shadowy enforcement organization staffed with former police offers), who played every single dirty trick imaginable, from illegal searches to leaning on judges, to make an example of him. He is going to prison for five years. As his final act as a free man, he was written an extensive and well-documented report of all the sleaze and slime that a vigilante group bankrolled by some of the most powerful offshore companies in the world used to shut down his business and get him jailed. It's a long read, and if you're not furious by the time it's over, you're a lot more cynical about corporate-owned justice than I am.

I was convicted of “Conspiracy to defraud the movie industry through the facilitation of copyright infringement” on June 24 2012 after an eight week trial. A trial that was brought not by the UK state prosecutor, the Crown Prosecution Service, but by a private prosecutor, the Federation Against Copyright Theft Limited. For those that are unaware FACT Ltd is the UK regional office of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the same organization that is behind the attempted extradition of Richard O´Dwyer who based his own website TVShack on STC. As will become clear as you read this piece I consider FACT Ltd and the MPAA to be dangerous vigilante organizations that have no place in prosecuting UK citizens never mind conducting up to fifteen illegal surveillance operations every month on those same citizens. FACT Ltd are a private limited company staffed almost entirely by former police and trading standards officers most of which FACT Ltd have identified as willing to go “that extra mile” in their fight against “copyright thieves.” In other words there is a reason that FACT Ltd employs the individuals they do (be that investigators, lawyers or executive officers) – because they are willing to cheat, lie and break the law for their employer. Essentially FACT Ltd is the MPAA´s private police force operating within the UK. But more of that later.

After my conviction many stories appeared in the press regarding the “facts” of my case which I found odd as not one journalist had bothered to attend the trial during those eight weeks. I later found out that these so called facts had been passed to various journalists in a 1600 word press release by FACT Ltd the contents of which were then dutifully parroted by lazy journalists who couldn’t even be bothered to check if what they were reporting was accurate. Publications such as the Daily Mail and my local paper the Evening Chronicle actually just copied and pasted the FACT Ltd press release en masse with only minor alterations. Such is the state of investigative/responsible journalism nowadays. It is because of these inaccurate articles and lies that I felt the need to give my side of the story so that publications that are not as lazy or sycophantic to FACT Ltd would have the true facts at their disposal should they want to report what has really happened here. I can but hope.

I will try to keep this story as short and to the point as possible but the reader will appreciate that this is a tale that spans the last five years of my life and a lot has happened during that time. I will be as brief as possible but you’re still going to need to give me 30 minutes of your time if you want to know the whole story. Sorry!

I started my site on October 1 2007. STC only ever contained links to third party video websites such as YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Veoh, 4OD and many others. It did not nor has it ever streamed content itself. It rapidly became popular and I was able to form partnerships with Warner Bros., Discovery Channel, A&E Television Networks and many other bona fide companies as they realised how important STC was becoming in the Video on Demand market. STC quickly became one of the leading video search engines in the world second only to Google Video.

A Very British Miscarriage Of Justice: The real story behind the conviction of SurfTheChannel´s owner Anton Vickerman


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  1. Do you have a link not on surfthechannel to the whole article?  I can’t access it due to my work’s ‘net policy (which is fair enough but I’d like to read it!).  Thanks.

      1. Thanks!  I put it into a word .doc to make it easier to read.  Default TNR at 12 point it’s 28 pages.  Yup, long indeed.  But definitely worth reading.

          1. This is insanity. This judge is either completely ignorant of the law, or has complete disregard for it. I can’t decide which would be worse.

  2. The most infuriating thing about the whole trial is banking on the complete lack of understanding of how tech works e.g. admitting chat logs into evidence, difference between streaming, uploading and linking.. the list goes on.

    1. You think?

      Sure, it’s pretty damn inexcusable this far into the 21st century (old farts need to stop exerting influence in a world they no longer understand), but at least that’s relatively understandable.

      But I can’t decide which of these boils my blood more: private corporations being allowed to buy police, or such blatant corruption in the judiciary. I mean, how the fuck has it been allowed to go so far? Where’s the bloody scandal FFS? Is the entire ‘public service’ upper echelon a bunch of utterly worthless, nest-feathering scum?

  3. Most amazing of all is the judge’s behaviour, especially in ruling that evidence that was clearly obtained illegally (or indeed manufactured) was acceptable in court. Yup, I’m furious.

  4. I had no idea this happened! Just a couple of weeks ago, I went back to surfthechannel and it was gone.  Flabbergasted.

    1. Assuming you’re a British citizen:

      Send letters – actual physical letters in the post, not emails to your local politicians, as well as the ministers for:

      Business, Innovation and Skills
      Vincent Cable MP
      David Willets MP
      John Hayes MP
      Mark Prisk MP
      Greg Clark MP
      Lord Green
      Norman Lamb MP
      Baroness Wilcox

      Communities and Local Government
      Eric Pickles MP
      Greg Clark MP (again)
      Grant Shapps MP
      Andrew Stunell MP
      Bob Neill MP
      Baroness Hanham

      Culture, Media and Sport
      Jeremy Hunt  MP
      John Penrose MP
      Hugh Robertson MP
      Ed Vaizey MP

      International Development
      Andrew Mitchell MP
      Alan Duncan MP
      Stephen O’Brien MP

      Home Office,
      Theresa May MP
      Nick Herbert MP
      Lord Henley
      Damian Green MP
      James Brokenshire MP
      Lynne Featherstone MP

      Kenneth Clarke MP
      Lord McNally
      Nick Herbert MP (Again)
      Crispin Blunt MP
      Jonathan Djanogly MP

      A personalised letter to each one would be ideal, but a form letter will do in a pinch.  Express your opinions clearly, without heated or overly evocative language (I think this is a point that Vicxkerman falls down on – there’s way too many points where he assumes a motive or action without evidence.  It’s totally his perogative to do and given his situation I don’t blame him, but if you’re going to campaign against this being visibly angry won’t help), stress FACT’s origins, their subversion of due process and legal protections, suppression of the letter from the police and other shady actions.

      The important thing is that one person alone won’t fix this, so you need to mobilise and motivate.  Get people together and march on the houses of parliament.  Get sympathetic politicians on your side.  And try not to get hijacked by extremists.

      I’m in Ireland so I can’t engage in direct action, but I’m damn well going to shout about this from every rooftop.  We beat ACTA, we can beat these bastards too.

        1.  Start in your immediate social group – tell your friends.  If you’re on facebook, post it there.  If you’re on Twitter, post it there.  If you’re on Boards or thejournal… well, you get the picture.  Get peopel aware of the kinds of dirty tricks that are being used, so if they end up in the same situation they know what to expect and they can try and counter it ahead of time.

          I’m not sure if there’s any point in trying to arrange political action outside of the UK at this point.  We do have a ‘special relationship’ so maybe a letter-writing campaign would help.

        1.  You do run the risk of being ignored, yeah.  And That’s how I felt campaigning against ACTA this year.  Especially after talking to a sympathetic MEP in person about it who was very cynical about our chances. 

          Until I started getting letters of support back from MEPs all across Europe.  And then it was defeated in the vote.

          These sorts of campaigns can often seem hopeless, but they’re still worth fighting.  Ultimately, an innocent man is in jail, and he’ll appreciate the support if nothing else.

          1. I don’t disagree with you in principle. But it’s all about context. You have to ask yourself will the government care? If they don’t care, then they won’t care if you care.

            Enough people protested against the wars we continue to fight just to get blindly ignored. Why? Because it was in the governments interest to ignore the people they represent.

            If you think they’ll listen, then it’s worth it, otherwise don’t waste your breath.

            It’s sad, and depresses me, but it’s true.

          2.  Oh, and I agree with you that the vast majority of the MPs wouldn’t care.  It’s a lot of hard work and it might come to nothing.  Sadly, that’s the risk you have to take.

          1.  This is potentially a great idea and was usefully employed by Henry Root to elicit a response! “I enclose a pound to cover your cost in the matter” Most politicians (with notable exception of Thatcher) would have to reply and return the donation, at least proving the missive had been read.

      1. I don’t know about those names, but there were several people in Vickerman’s account who I now want to write physical letters to consisting mostly of swear words.

        Could the EFF help?

    1. Our owners don’t want to make him a martyr, they want us to see him crushed.  It is totally about the message. It’s the same with Bradley Manning.

    2. We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught. He can be killed and forgotten. But four hundred years later an idea can still change the world. I’ve witnessed firsthand the power of ideas. I’ve seen people kill in the name of them; and die defending them. But you cannot kill an idea, cannot touch it or hold it. Ideas do not bleed, it cannot feel pain, and it does not love.

      Killing a man can move people to action, breaking a man and crushing him to show your power to all around you helps keep the citizens in line, knowing they could be next.  Set to be broken one at a time because people will refuse to speak up, expecting others to do so in their stead…  until there is no one left to speak up for them.

      That or I’m just a nut with a catchy avatar… you decide.

  5. I can remember reading cool fiction set in a corporate-owned dystopia, where Habeas and the presumption of innocence did not apply.

    1. When I was a child reading scifi novels, I often wished I could live in those worlds and explore them more.   

      Oh, how young and foolish I was!  

      Be careful what you wish for, I guess?

  6. Four years in prison was the sentence . He needs an appeal and a better legal team, perhaps it’s something for Private Eye magazine to take up to.

    1. A better legal team won’t help him when  judge Evans has been bought and paid for by the prosecution. 

  7. A trial that was brought not by the UK state prosecutor, the Crown Prosecution Service, but by a private prosecutor, the Federation Against Copyright Theft Limited.

    How exactly does that work?  How many private groups in the UK are allowed to criminally prosecute people?

    1. Anybody in the UK can bring a private prosecution against any criminal.  It’s expensive and there are a number of measures to make it difficult to use vexatiously – the Criminal Prosecution Service is entitled to take over such prosecutions, and either prosecute them itself or discontinue them.

      The RSPCA charity has a habit of bringing private prosecutions against animal abusers.

      1. There was something in the news yesterday about a private prosecution by a gentleman whose door was battered down and he was abducted by two police officers. I guess it offers an alternative for cases against the police since the regular system rarely prosecutes them.

  8. I can’t finish reading that, for the same reason I can’t join a Taliban training camp – there’s no path that comes from that decision that doesn’t involve getting shot or blowing something up.

  9. My first thoughts on reading this chilling account was how familiar it all sounds to Chinese people. Sure, there’s the patina of “rule of law” in the UK that provides some distinction, but the rest plays out just like it does in China. No, the UK is not like China. But in this case, it sure has some startling similarities. 

    The most important point is this: many (not all) businesses flock to China not for cheap labour or the potential to sell a billion useless things to a growing mass of consumers, but to enter a market where the right connections will absolve the obligation to obey the law. The China dream is not to sell a can of sugared water to each person in China each month. It’s the ability to do what you can’t do in the EU or US; that is, whatever you like. 

    And now that large corporations have had a taste of that, they expect the same to hold true back in their home countries. Mr Vickerman’s story exposes this. 

    I wish him well. Experiencing China in the UK must be a horrifying experience. 

  10. I think there is a typo in the second sentence.  (a shadowy enforcement organization staffed with former police offers) 

  11. Well written, 
    I’ve forwarded the link to my usually responsive MP, we’ll see what he has to say.


    1. Unfortunately, MP replied that link is dead… and it is… Anyone knows who pulled the plus on the site? is there a copy somewhere? (google cache seems to have been flushed as well)

  12. Incredible. It reads more like a sleazy court room drama than real life.

    Someone should mirror that page and the RAR file before it gets taken down.

  13. I’m starting to consider the UK as a lost case. It seems to be a hotbed of corruption where private organizations operate as government institutions and control the justice system.

    Seems like the only place for a just man is in prison. Or a different country.

    1. Of course one option is to break off the northern end of the UK as a  separate country with a proportionally elected parliament accountable only to the people who live there.

      The UK is not only a lost case, it’s a mad dog, and it bites.  In 2 years, we get a chance to put it out of its misery.  I’ll be voting to do so.

  14. Wrote to my (generally pretty useless, just like her predecessor) MP. Perhaps she’ll have a word with Ken Clarke  though, since he represents the constituency just down the road.

    Not holding my breath though. I never got a reply the last time I contacted her (regarding Richard O’Dwyer).

  15. If anyone has any room in their heart for even more hate for the MPAA, check out This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated.

    Hereby pledging not to let these utter fucking scumbags ever see another cent of mine.

  16. Well I presume he could use a few quid to continue funding his appeal. Writing letters to MPs might ulitmately prove futile but helping pay the lawyers might do some good.

  17. This only reinforces me in my once-upon-a-time decision to do all I can to keep my money away from big studios and big music. I’ll watch some of their movies (though I listen to no mass market music at all) but will never pay for them.

    My money goes to independent artists only.

  18. That was a pretty scary read. It was, of course, only seen from one side, but i have no trouble believing that big business will do any, and all, things to protect their profit. I am a bit confused though. Was he sentenced for uploading, or was he sentenced for linking? Anywhow, there was an allmost casual mentioning of his former employee running a kiddie porn site, and some of the major players knowing about this. If this is true, i sure as hell hope he reported this. That should take care of any credibillity, that        these assholes have. If it isn’t, that’s about the worst thing you could do. I hope he gets a new trial, that includes a competent judge.

    1. Was he sentenced for uploading, or was he sentenced for linking?

      Since the judge didn’t seem to know the difference, I’d say that question is moot.

      The snuggling up to a kiddy-porn merchant angle does indeed seem to have been regrettably left out of the picture… dude most definitely deserves a re-trial.

    2. When your evidence is thin you inject allegations and connections to portray your target in a bad light.  Guilt by association, its done often in the media but the legal system is supposed to be fair and not do these things.
      They are not protecting their profits, they are protecting a business model that does not properly function in today’s world.

      They claim they can not offer things to consumers when consumers want them, and this is partially true.  They have created a worldwide web of rules and collection agencies that defeat even their own attempts to promote their own works, how else can one explain a major studio or label lacking the world wide rights to their own product and having to use geoblocking?

      Rather than embrace the new ideas what everyone else has, they instead cling to the fantasy land where nothing has to change and they can keep doing business as they always have.  From the group who called the VCR the Boston Strangler and when their court fights failed, and people had VCRs they were making money hand over fist.  It was a new Renaissance for their industry.  They fight every step forward, and the sick part is they have now purchased enough influence that they feel perfectly okay pursuing rules to destroy global networks simply because someone MIGHT be able to use them for wrong doing in their eyes.

      They buy influence and scream about all of the money they are losing, but somehow the fact they are having some of the best years in a long time is just a fluke.  They get everyone else to spend money to protect their “rights” and pay less than most people do in taxes at the same time.  They talk about how important an industry they are, yet I do not see us buying copies of The Dark Knight to fight disease in the developing world.

      The Governments are corrupt, the people are trapped in a system designed to only appear to offer choice and control.  The real power and control is held by those who have money and buy the influence, making sure that everyone else bears the burdens.  How much more will it take before we remember we out number them, and we can with a single voice say NO MORE and make them tremble.

        1. It does not require as much critical thought as one might imagine. 
          What it does take the the thugs over playing their hand and targeting the people who gleefully supported crazed ideas believing they would never be targets to find themselves targeted.
          We have to protect the children and stop the terrorists!  And that is why we are strip searching your 90 yr old mother in the middle of the airport.  And a few more look at the people who fight against this and moved towards their ranks.
          It will take time, but the day is coming when us regular peons will remember the strength in numbers and take control of our lives back.

      1. Flagged, ‘as inappropriate’ not because it’s the slightest bit inappropriate, but because it’s the only way I can think of to get the link added to the OP.

          1. Didn’t realise he’s the only one who can edit it.

            Hey, when I flag my own comment in this aging thread, is that the only way I can bring your notice to it, or is it just a pain in the arse, or both?

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