Juneau man pleads guilty to DVD piracy

Nelson, 55, to serve six months house arrest, pay $6,738 restitution

Posted: Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Juneau man busted for running an "brazen" illegal DVD pirating operation has pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of copyright infringement.

Cliff Nelson, 55, will serve six months in home detention, be on probation for three years and pay $6,783 in restitution to the Motion Picture Association of America.

He had been facing as much as three years in prison on two felony charges after an FBI investigation into DVD piracy in Juneau led to his indictment last year.

The case against Nelson ended in early September. Neither Nelson nor his attorney were available for comment.

According to court documents, Nelson had only recently begun his business in which he downloaded first-run Hollywood movies from the Internet, used a specialized DVD duplicator to copy the movies, and sold them for $10 to $12. Such movies would typically retail for $19 - when they eventually arrived in stores.

In August 2007, Nelson began business by buying a new computer and hiring someone to install special software facilitating the illegal movie downloads.

He knew that what he was doing was wrong, according to prosecutors.

"This individual advised Nelson that it would be illegal to use the software to download movies," according to the prosecutor's sentencing memorandum.

Later, someone who Nelson offered to sell to reportedly asked Nelson if it was illegal.

"Nelson told the individual that it was not illegal for the individual to buy the movie, it was just illegal for Nelson to sell the movie," according to court documents.

Nelson provided a list of movies he had for sale to prospective customers. The FBI documented sales of 357 discs.

The small size of the operation and his willingness to plead guilty helped him earn a sentence more lenient than those suggested in federal sentencing guidelines.

"The defendant very promptly accepted responsibility," the sentencing memorandum said.

At the same time, a deterrent is needed as well, prosecutor Andrea Steward said in a court filing.

"The brazenness of the defendant in admitting his illegal conduct yet openly conducting his illegal business in Juneau is striking," she said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

An erroneous statement about Nelson’s arrest has been corrected.

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