NinjaVideo founders plead guilty to copyright infringement

Two defendants face prison time and three more face a jury trial in February

Two founders of movie download site NinjaVideo.net have pleaded guilty to charges related to copyright infringement, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Hana Beshara, 29, of Las Vegas, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy and criminal copyright infringement in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Last Friday, Matthew David Howard Smith, 23, of Raleigh, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to the same charges in the same court.

Beshara and Smith were among five alleged founders of the website indicted on six counts by a grand jury in Virginia earlier in September. Both face five years in prison on each count they pleaded to.

The remaining three defendants face a jury trial starting in February.

NinjaVideo.net, which operated from February 2008 until it was shut down by law enforcement in June 2010, allowed visitors to download infringing copies of hundreds of television shows and movies, including some movies still playing in theaters, the DOJ said. Visitors could download much of the infringing content free, but those who paid US$25 obtained access to private forum boards that contained a wider range of infringing material, the agency said.

NinjaVideo also generated income from advertising, the DOJ said. Beshara told prosecutors that she and the other founders collected more than $500,000 while the site was active, and she received more than $200,000 of the profits, the DOJ said. As part of her plea agreement, Beshara agreed to forfeit assets seized by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations in June 2010, including cash, an investment brokerage account, two bank accounts, a PayPal account and one Internet advertising account.

Beshara referred to herself as Queen Phara and "the face and the name behind Ninja," and was the day-to-day administrator of the site, the DOJ said. In that role, Beshara supervised the website and at times directed the release of infringing copies of specific movies and television shows, including through uploads of copyright works by members of the group to computer servers around the world and in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Beshara released frequent podcasts to communicate with NinjaVideo visitors, the DOJ said. In the NinjaVideo Manifesto, she said the site was part of a protest against the movie industry.

"You have done this," she said. "You, the studios with your inflated budgets and your ridiculous salaries. You have fed the mob insignificant tidbits about celebrity antics in order for them to pay out their retirement funds in popcorn prices. But not all amongst this mob are sheep. Sites like NinjaVideo force innovation upon you. This entire community does."

Smith designed much of the NinjaVideo website, the DOJ said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags U.S. Department of JusticeInternet-based applications and servicesNinjaVideo.netHana Besharae-commerceU.S. Immigrations and Customs EnforcementinternetvideoMatthew David Howard SmithCriminalintellectual propertycopyrightlegalMusic and audio

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Grant Gross

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