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Durham UK Pair Jailed After £1.5m Music And Film Piracy Scam

LONDON (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) – A British Phonographic Industry (BPI) case brings an end to a North East counterfeiting operation gang which used a legit video store as a front for a piracy network. Family homes and caravan hid manufacture of thousands of fakes per week .

The UK record industry welcomes the sentences delivered yesterday to the ringleaders of what was one of Britain's biggest and most extensive counterfeiting gangs.

Sentencing after a BPI private prosecution, His Honour Judge Hewitt, said "It is clear that this was a substantial operation, on a much greater scale than just friends and family. It caused an incalculable loss to the industry and would have continued had the industry not taken this action."

After a two week trial at Durham Crown Court in November 2006, ringleader James Glen Cowan, 41, was yesterday jailed for 2 years for conspiracy to defraud, tax evasion and benefit fraud.

His wife, Ann Cowan, 38 was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, benefit fraud (up to £30,000) and attempting to pervert the course of justice. She received a 9 month sentence suspended for 12 months and also has to spend 150 hours working unpaid in the community. The judge told her she only escaped prison because she was the mother of two young children.

Andrew Wood, 36, pleaded guilty in January and was jailed for 12 months for conspiracy to defraud and tax evasion

The sentences were handed down after the court heard that the trio's extensive counterfeiting operation – a criminal enterprise concealed behind a local video store – may have involved dozens of people and generated in excess of £1.5m over five years.

British record industry body, the BPI, brought a private prosecution after a routine operation led to the unveiling of an extensive and sophisticated counterfeiting operation. The BPI worked closely with film industry body, FACT, whose investigators assisted with the raids and gave evidence.

Video Drive in the seaside town of Horden, County Durham, looked like an innocuous family run film rental store in a small close-knit neighbourhood. But the court heard that the gang used the store, owned by Andrew Wood, as a front for an extensive counterfeiting ring that the BPI believes was earning tens of thousands of pounds a week at its peak.

The Cowans had converted their family home and their caravan on Crimdon Dene Caravan Park into ad-hoc factories that would have been able to produce hundreds of counterfeit CDs and DVDs every hour.

This is the first BPI private case since Paul Canning and Mark Bailey, also from the north East, each received three and half year custodial sentences in April 2005 for their role in masterminding a ten-strong gang that earned £1.2 million during a counterfeiting scam.

Confiscation proceedings, which will strip them of their assets, are underway and due to be heard in court in July 2007.

BPI General Counsel Roz Groome said: "In the light of the current judicial guidance to avoid jailing offenders, these high prison sentences demonstrate the seriousness of the crime. We often find that those engaged in counterfeiting and piracy are also engaged in other areas of crime – in this case, benefit fraud and tax evasion.”

"We work very closely with the authorities to tackle IP crime and we welcome the government’s recently announced legislative changes which will give Trading Standards the power to protect copyright and prosecute those who engage in this illegal activity”.