By AARON KATERSKY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Federal prosecutors in New York announced criminal charges Wednesday against a “sophisticated and widespread” international video piracy ring that disseminated hundreds of movies and television shows prior to their release date.

“Nearly every movie released by major production studios” between 2011 and 2020 was stolen and put online by the Sparks Group, causing “tens of millions of dollars in losses to film production studios,” according to the indictment.

The Sparks Group is accused of figuring out how to fraudulently obtain DVDs and Blu-Ray discs from wholesale distributors up to several weeks prior to their retail release date, crack copyright protections and reproduce the content for easy dissemination online.

“The defendants were members of an international video piracy ring that was sophisticated and widespread. The group allegedly circumvented copyright protections on nearly every movie released by major production studios, as well as television shows, and distributed them by way of a worldwide network of servers,” said acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, whose office brought the charges against three individuals.

Umar Ahmad, George Bridi and Jonatan Correa were charged with copyright infringement. Bridi faced an additional charge of wire fraud. He was arrested Sunday in Cyprus. Correa was arrested Tuesday in Olathe, Kansas. Ahmad, a Norwegian, remains at large. Dozens of servers controlled by the Sparks Group were taken offline.

“This investigation shows — in high definition — that despite the online platform and international nature of this scheme, we are committed to stop those who use the cyber world for illicit gain,” said Peter Fitzhugh of Homeland Security Investigations.

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