Five men in four countries were indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday in a case alleging they distributed major movies and television shows for profit before their release date by hacking Hollywood film companies, officials said.
Copies of titles including “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Expendables 3” and “The Walking Dead” were stolen by the international piracy ring from company computer servers, or sometimes obtained by means such as surreptitiously recording cinema screenings, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a news release.
Investigators said they recovered a server in France that contained more than 25,000 stolen files, including the feature films “Godzilla,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and “Horrible Bosses 2.”
The defendants are accused of altering the digital files so that they could be easily distributed across the internet.
In addition to selling films via private online communication, the defendants also uploaded the stolen content to pirating sites. The men then distributed profits via a shared PayPal account, according to the indictment.
The criminal conduct allegedly began in 2013 and continued until spring 2015.
In February 2015, one of the men allegedly told a potential customer that copies of the films “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” would be available to buy on the same day they were released in U.S. theaters.
Investigators caught on to the ring after they sold films to a confidential source working on behalf of the Motion Picture Association of America, Variety reported.
None of the five defendants are in U.S. custody, officials said. They are:
• U.K. resident Malik Luqman Farooq, 30. The indictment accuses him of stealing more than a dozen film over two years. He was previously arrested by police in London on similar charges and is awaiting trial in the U.K.
• Aditya Raj, who is believed to reside in India. He’s accused of releasing pirated movies online and arranging for several films to be recorded in theaters in India.
• Sam Nhance, who is believed to reside in Dubai. Authorities allege he procured and maintained the computer server used to store files for international distribution.
• Ghobhirajah Selvarajah, who is believed to reside in Malaysia. He was the owner of the PayPal account used to receive payments and pay for the computer server, the indictment alleges.
• Jitesh Jadhav, who is also believed to reside in India. He’s accused of using a camcorder to record films during cinema screenings, including “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
Officials also allege the men formerly ran a website called BollyTNT that distributed pirated copies of Bollywood films.
All five are charged with conspiracy to commit computer fraud, unauthorized access to a computer, aggravated identity theft and copyright infringement.
If convicted on all counts, they could be sentenced to up to 15 years in federal prison.