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    Member of Busted Scene Piracy Group Hopes to Avoid Prison

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    The U.S. probation service is recommending a six-month prison sentence for Jonatan Correa, who was part of the notorious Scene group SPARKS. According to Correa's lawyer, his client shouldn't go to prison at all. Aside from his limited involvement with the group, Correa had no financial incentive. The Scene was his hobby, which ran parallel to his family life and managing his company with 32 employees.Last year, the US Department of Justice booked one of its biggest successes in its battle against online piracy.In August, law enforcement upset the international piracy ecosystem by taking out a prominent Scene group, which was the source for many pirated movies and TV-shows.

    SPARKS Raids Hit The Scene
    Supported by international law enforcement partners, the feds carried out organized raids all over the world. This dealt a massive blow to The Scene and resulted in indictments against three alleged members of the SPARKS group.While The Scene pretty much recovered in the months that followed, the criminal case against the three defendants remains. In January, one of the accused men, Kansas resident Jonatan Correa (aka ‘Raid’), pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit copyright infringement.Correa was well aware that his admission could lead to a prison sentence. With the Department of Justice, he agreed to a sentencing guideline of 12 to 18 months. The official recommendation from the probation service, which was released earlier this month, lowered this to half a year in prison, followed by six months of home confinement.

    Prison Sentence Not Needed
    The eventual sentence will be determined by the court and according to Correa’s attorney, David Wikstrom, there is sufficient reason to forgo a prison sentence altogether.In a letter to the court, the attorney sums up several reasons why Correa should not be incarcerated, including the lack of a financial motive. If anything, his involvement with The Scene had cost the defendant money.

    No Financial Incentive
    “His offense — unlike the vast majority of federal crimes, and in particular criminal copyright infringement offenses — was not motivated by pursuit of financial gain, and in fact Mr. Correa lost money committing it.“Money was not the point; it was a hobby, verging on compulsion: to gain entry to and acceptance in The Scene, to be the first to copy and upload a release into a purportedly members-only, secretive club,” the attorney adds.While the defendant didn’t make any money, Hollywood studios were allegedly harmed by his activities. According to the calculations, Correa caused $54,000 in damages. This is a relatively low amount, however, and the defendant has agreed to fully compensate the Motion Picture Association.

    Limited Role
    Correa’s role in the conspiracy itself was also limited, according to his attorney. The other co-conspirators had organizational roles but Correa mostly ripped DVD and Blu-Ray discs that he purchased himself before uploading to Scene servers.“He did not sell copies into the market; indeed his understanding was that selling his copies into the market would cause him to be banned from the group,” the attorney clarifies.To outsiders, members of The Scene have an air of mystique. However, in reality, most of the people involved are just ‘ordinary’ men and women who could easily be your next-door neighbors. This applies to Correa as well, who has a family and runs a business with dozens of employees.

    A Family and a Business
    “The Defendant is a nonviolent first offender with a lifetime of gainful employment. He lives with and supports his family, including his wife, child and grandchild,” the attorney writes.“From his beginnings as a house painter for his brother’s company at age 21, he now, 16 years later, owns and manages two companies […] which work on projects throughout Kansas and Missouri, and which have 32 full-time employees and dozens of other subcontractors, who likewise support families.”These factors weigh in favor of not sending Correa to prison, his lawyer notes, offering 14 letters from family and friends who describe the defendant as a selfless and hardworking man.The question that remains is why Correa was drawn to The Scene. The attorney offers some background on this as well. While we see no value in describing all personal details, providing some context is appropriate.

    The Scene as an Outlet
    What’s clear from the letter is that Correa didn’t have an easy youth. The extreme religious beliefs of his family weighed heavy but during his teenage years he found an outlet in computers, the Internet, and piracy in particular.Like many others, Correa began sharing TV shows and movies for his personal entertainment. Over the years, he got more heavily involved in the supply side as well. He eventually became a ‘racer’ for the ‘Third Party’ group (ThP), which was part of The SceneAfter graduating from high school things changed. Correa cut his ties with The Scene and started building his offline career, first working as a cable technician and later as a painter. When the SPARKS group started in 2011, Correa was not in any way involved.

    Reconnecting
    That changed in 2016, more than a decade after leaving The Scene behind. Correa’s interest in his old habit picked up again and he went looking for old friends on IRC and reconnected with “Silent,” who later introduced him to “Artist,” who allegedly ran the SPARKS group.One thing led to another and after more than ten years, Correa was part of The Scene again. In addition to running his family and business, he spent hours every night and thousands of dollars on equipment to fulfill his online passion.The motivation wasn’t to get stuff for free, as Correa also paid for subscription services like Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and Hulu. The main driver was recognition and bragging rights, the same things that kept him going earlier in his life.“As already noted, he didn’t do it for the money. This was his hobby, his compulsion. He worked all day, spent time at home in the evenings with his wife, and then after she went to bed, spent hours in front of the computer competing to be the fastest to upload a copy of a DVD to an FTP server.“It was, in fact, a precise reenactment of his teenage years, sneaking onto the internet to watch movies after his mother and siblings went to sleep,” the attorney adds.Correa and his attorney hope that, given this background, the Court will agree to a non-incarceratory sentence. The outcome will become clear in a few weeks when the final sentence is handed down.

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    U.S. Requests Lower Sentence for ‘Cooperative’ Member of Scene Piracy Group
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    Jonatan Correa was part of the piracy Scene group SPARKS that presumably caused Hollywood millions in losses. After pleading guilty, he now faces a prison sentence of 12 to 18 months. However, the U.S. Government is asking a New York federal court to issue a lower sentence since Correa didn't have a financial motive. In addition, he has been cooperative since his arrest.Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice booked one of its biggest successes in its battle against online piracy.With help from law enforcement organizations around the world, the feds took out the prominent SPARKS Scene group, which was a major blow to the broader piracy ecosystem.Initially, the number of piracy releases grinded to a halt, but in recent months things have pretty much returned to normal again. The same can’t be said for the three men who were indicted. They still face criminal charges for their role in the SPARKS group.One of the accused men, Kansas resident Jonatan Correa (aka ‘Raid’), immediately confessed. In January, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and the court is expected to determine his sentence later this month.

    Guideline: 12 to 18 Months Prison Sentence
    With the Department of Justice, the defendant agreed to a sentencing guideline of 12 to 18 months. Last week, however, Correa’s lawyer argued that a prison sentence is not required at all.The defense attorney told the court that Correa’s role in the SPARKS group was minimal. There was no financial motive either. In fact, the Scene was a hobby that only cost his client money. At the same time, the defendant has a lot to lose, as he owns a company with more than 30 employees.

    U.S. Government Weighs In
    Late last week, the U.S. Government shared its thoughts on the matter. In a detailed sentencing letter, U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss starts off by recognizing that Correa’s involvement in the SPARKS group was part of a serious and sophisticated criminal conspiracy.“The defendant had multiple functions in the Sparks Group—he obtained DVDs and Blu-Ray discs and ‘cracked’ the copyrighted protections on the discs by using special software. He also uploaded the copyrighted works to servers controlled by the Sparks Group, and then copied the content across different servers located around the world.“Over the course of the conspiracy, the Sparks Group successfully reproduced and disseminated hundreds of movies and television shows prior to their retail release date, causing film production studios tens of millions of dollars in losses,” Strauss adds.

    Small Role and No Financial Motive
    However, the Government agrees that Correa’s role was much smaller than those of the other defendants. In addition, he’s only linked to a small fraction of the millions of dollars in damages, $54,000 to be precise, which he agreed to pay back to the Motion Picture Association.The Government further recognizes that Correa wasn’t part of a conspiracy to make money. He wasn’t considered to be a leader of the group either, he mostly ripped and recorded content, which was then distributed elsewhere.“The defendant did not participate in the Sparks Group for financial gain, and his role in the Sparks Group was not nearly as extensive as some of his co-conspirators, who recruited and supervised other members of the Sparks Group and defrauded disc distributors into selling discs to the Sparks Group prior to the retail release date.“The Government believes that the defendant is substantially less culpable than the leaders of the Sparks Group who had more insight into the inner workings of the organization and oversaw its operations on a day-to-day basis,” U.S. Attorney Strauss adds.

    Cooperative Stance
    There are more facts that speak in Correa’s favor too. According to the U.S. Attorney, he immediately provided a full confession regarding his involvement in the SPARKS group and fully cooperated with law enforcement officials.While the Department of Justice didn’t learn any new information from Correa, the information he provided did corroborate other evidence, which was helpful.All in all, the Government believes that Correa’s limited role in the conspiracy and his cooperative stance warrant a lower sentence than the 12 to 18 months that are prescribed by the guidelines.

    U.S. Recommends Lower Sentence
    According to the U.S. Attorney, the arrest and felony charge will already have a significant deterrent impact on others who may consider engaging in similar schemes. At the same time, the Government hopes that this was a “singular mistake in judgment in an otherwise productive and law-abiding life.”“The Government respectfully requests that the Court impose a sentence below the Guidelines range of 12 to 18 months’ imprisonment, as such a sentence would be sufficient but not greater than necessary to serve the legitimate purposes of sentencing,” U.S. Attorney Strauss concludes.Needless to say, this recommendation is great news for Correa. While the Government doesn’t state how much lower the sentence should be, hopes of avoiding a prison sentence remain alive.

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