Vinyl pirates face prison sentences

May 2020

COPYRIGHT: Vinyl has become so fashionable again its attracted the attention of pirates – and now two UK men have been jailed and two others have received suspended sentences for their involvement in a bootleg vinyl operation that was manufacturing and selling unlicensed copies of mainly Northern Soul recordings.

Alan Godfrey, Christopher Price, Robert Pye and Stephen Russell were variously accused of copyright and trademark infringements as a result of their piracy activities. 

Explaining that the four men were part of one co-ordinated piracy venture, Alex Greenwood, speaking for the prosecution, told Newport Crown Court that: “All defendants were engaged in the large scale commercial sale of counterfeit goods infringing both trademark and copyright” and  “In many instances identical copies of recordings were found at the addresses of each of the defendants, indicative that they were supplying each other. All defendants’ PayPal records reflected thousands of sales of similarly described recordings over many years”.

Greenwood said Price and Russell were involved with the “manufacture and sale” of the recordings, while Pye and Godfrey were involved in their “commercial sale between November 2013 and October 2016”. Analysis of bank accounts in Godfrey’s name showed he made transfers of £101,518 to Pye, and his HSBC account contained credits of £77,957 from PayPal. Godfrey’s NatWest account had Amazon credits worth £10,905 and PayPal credits worth £152,254, despite tax records for the period showing he declared no income between 2010 and 2016.

Anti-piracy officers at record industry trade body the BPI uncovered while test-buying vinyl online. Suspicions that these were not legitimate releases were raised by errors such as spelling mistakes and blurred typefaces on the labels. Unofficial copies of original recordings included Marvin Gaye’s This Love Starved Heart Of Mine, Bettye Swann’s Kiss My Love Goodbye, Major Lance’s Investigate and Art Freeman’s Slippin Around With You. A number had words such as  “not for sale”, “promotional copy”, and “DJ Copy” written on them.

During their investigation, police officers found suspicious payments in the defendants’ bank and PayPal accounts, and subsequently seized 55,000 records which prosecutors said were worth some £500,000.

Judge Richard Willams suggested that the public  would have “at least expected” them to be unlicensed presses due to their unavailability in vinyl format from their respective record labels and said: “The accused made a market for what there was no legitimate source.”

Judge Williams sentenced Pye to 10 months imprisonment and, and Russell for eight months, while Godfrey was handed a suspended sentence of nine months and Price a suspended sentence of eight months.

.A separate ‘proceeds of crime’ hearing in relation to the case will take place next year.

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