The entertainment industry's crackdown on film piracy took a homegrown twist Friday as six former Fox Cable Networks employees and consultants were charged with illegally downloading pirated movies and software from a company computer server.
The charges come six months after Fox Entertainment Group, the parent of 20th Century Fox, found illegal copies of several movies on the server, including Fox's "Daredevil" and "X2: X-Men United" as well as Warner Bros.' "The Matrix Reloaded" and Revolution Studios' "Daddy Day Care."
The charges underscore the aggressive efforts entertainment firms are making to weed out movie piracy. Film piracy results in more than $3 billion a year in lost sales, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America.
The Fox case is unusual, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for U.S. Atty. Debra W. Yang in Los Angeles. "To my knowledge, this is the first time anywhere in the country where employees with a major media company have been accused of movie piracy."
The six individuals were fired or resigned this year. They are Kevin Sarna, 36, formerly an infrastructure consultant at Fox Cable; Jonathan O'Brien, 30, a former network engineer; Christopher Willis, 31, a former network engineer; Lisa Yamamoto, 45, a former message system and services administrator; Peter Mariano, 25, formerly a network administrator; and Garry Martin, 32, a former computer support manager.
Sarna, O'Brien and Willis were the alleged ringleaders of a file-sharing group that distributed copyrighted computer software, games and movies, according to the criminal complaint.
Yamamoto was linked to use of the server after an internal probe of an unrelated computer matter in November. She declined to comment. The others charged could not be reached.
All six are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.
Software worth more than $121,000 as well as 14 films owned by Fox, a division of News Corp., and other studios was posted on the file-sharing site, according to court documents.
"We applaud the swift action of the U.S. attorney's office in bringing these individuals to justice," Fox Entertainment Group said in a statement.
Mrozek said the piracy case was the latest in a series being pursued by Yang's office. "I think it shows the problems and also the extent of our efforts to protect intellectual property," Mrozek said.