Strict Sentence For British CD Pirate

The international recorded music industry has welcomed a lengthy jail sentence handed down to one of the world's most prolific CD pirates. Mark Purseglove, 33, was sentenced July 8 at London's Blackfr

LONDON -- The international recorded music industry has welcomed a lengthy jail sentence handed down to one of the world's most prolific CD pirates.

Mark Purseglove, 33, was sentenced July 8 at London's Blackfriars Crown Court to three-and-a-half years in prison for spearheading a global counterfeit-CD empire. Purseglove had pleaded guilty of charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.K. recorded music industry. At the sentencing, Judge Timothy Pontius also demanded Purseglove hand over assets valuing £1.8 million ($3.3 million), a British record for music piracy.

"It is normally drug barons who are being ordered to pay this amount of money. It's unprecedented as far as we are concerned," David Martin, director of anti piracy at the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), tells ELW.

"I would say he's by far one of the biggest bootleggers in Europe, and one of the biggest in the world. He's a massive player and I think that's reflected in the 'proceeds of crime' award and the sentence he's been given by the court, Martin adds.

The confiscation order refers to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Investigators at the BPI had pursued Purseglove and his illicit activities over the course of an 11-year crime spree. Purseglove's activities funded a lavish lifestyle of designer clothes, sports cars, holidays and properties in the most exclusive areas of London. Prosecutors told the court that Purseglove had amassed a fortune of at least £6.6 million ($12.2 million). Investigators believe that sum could be more than twice that figure.

Among the assets confiscated by the court were an Aston Martin sports car and three properties; two in the salubrious west London suburb of Chelsea and another in the seaside town of Brighton.

Should Purseglove fail to hand over his assets by the end of March 2005, a further five years will be added to his sentence.

Judge Pontius explained to the court that he "needed to pass a sentence to deter (Purseglove) and others and send a strong message that the courts will provide effective protection of the rights of producers, composers and publishers."

The counterfeiter's decision to "flout the law to reap considerable financial rewards" would not be tolerated, said Pontius, adding that the loss to the recording industry was "likely to be considerable."

Purseglove sold forged discs through an international network of wholesale dealers and at record fairs throughout the country. Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Coldplay were among the hundreds of celebrated artists whose music he pirated.

The court heard that Purseglove paid corrupt sound engineers and festival-goers to make many of his illegal recordings. He had also falsely advertised duplicated CDs as rarities through such Internet auction sites as eBay, charging up to 163,130 pounds ($241) for a single disc, prosecutors told the court.

The judge explained to the court that he took into account Purseglove's "contempt of previous injunctions" and "repeated flagrant and blatant disregard for the law." The BPI had initially launched proceedings against Purseglove in 1991; the trade body had obtained a court injunction after he was caught importing bootlegs into the United Kingdom.

His activities continued until he was arrested in 1997 by U.S. customs for smuggling, the culmination of an elaborate sting operation orchestrated by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in collaboration with the FBI. When released, he was electronically tagged and lived with his aunt in Florida before being fined $5,000 and banned from entering the United States for 20 years.

Upon returning to Britain, he continued to expand his international bootlegging operation. The BPI pursued him through surveillance conducted with the Metropolitan Police. In 1999, he was arrested for selling illicit CDs at the annual summer Reading Festival, which resulted in a four-month prison sentence. He was arrested in the U.K. in June 2002 following a lengthy enquiry.

"This is an individual who had made an enormous amount of money by ripping off both the music industry and music fans," comments BPI chairman Peter Jamieson. "The result shows that there is no hiding place for these people, and after 10 years of chasing, we've succeeded in bringing him to justice."

IFPI head of enforcement Iain Grant says "this kind of sentence sets a good example to the criminals involved in music piracy all over the world, and to the judicial systems which need to deal with them."

Grant added the decision was "one of the most vital elements of an effective criminal justice system in dealing with this kind of organized crime."