Many of us have laughed at FBI warnings for years. We settle in to watch a favorite Blu-ray or legally downloaded movie and it appears: the message about movie piracy: “You wouldn’t steal a handbag…You wouldn’t steal a car…Illegally downloading movies is stealing.” Some newer discs even include fast-paced public service announcements with what is meant to be ‘trendy’ music and an outdated ‘90s vibe. These have been spoofed on the Internet and television so many times that they have become a joke. However, for three brothers in Fremont (Hop, Tony, and Huynh Hoang), it would have been wiser to take these warnings seriously.
The “Fremont Three,” as we will call them, have been charged with grand theft, conspiracy, and receiving stolen property for their operation of mediamap4.com, which allowed streaming of over 1,000 bootleg videos. Tony Hoang was also involved in movieiphone.net and iphonetvshows.net – two other dedicated downloading and streaming sites. A cease-and-desist letter from the Motion Picture Association of America was sent to the brothers in late 2012 and was ignored.
In California, where, as one can easily imagine, pirating movies and television shows is taken a bit more seriously than in other states where moving-making is not a central industry, anti-piracy laws are strict. Not only is it possible that the federal government will get involved, but California law enforcement agents as well. State fines reach upwards of $500,000 and jail terms range from 1 to five years (CA Penal Code §653). On second thought, the Fremont Three may not be the only persons who ought to take anti-piracy warnings seriously – no matter how funny the spoofs are.