Michigan Man Arrested for Illegally Streaming Live Sporting Events Over the Internet

A Michigan man is the latest arrest in Operation Fake Sweep.

Yonjo Quiroa, 28, of Comstock Park, Mich., was arrested Wed., Feb. 1, charged with criminal copyright infringement related to his operation of websites that illegally streamed live sporting event telecasts and pay-per-view events over the Internet.

In a related action, 16 websites were seized. These sites illegally distributed copyrighted sporting events – including nine of the 16 which were operated by Quiroa. This investigation is being conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center).

The arrest and website seizures coincide with Operation Fake Sweep, which was officially announced in Indianapolis - home of SuperBowl XLVI - on Feb. 2. The nationwide enforcement operation targets stores, flea markets and street vendors selling counterfeit National Football League (NFL) game-related sportswear throughout the country. Special agents and officers also targeted illegal counterfeit imports into the United States, and seized hundreds of websites engaged in counterfeiting and piracy online. More information on this operation is available by clicking here.

The streaming websites seized include: (1) firstrow.tv, (2) xonesports.tv, (3) firstrowsports.tv, (4) firstrowsports.net, (5) firstrowsports.com, (6) hq-streams.tv, (7) robplay.tv, (8) soccertvlive.net, (9) sports95.net, (10) sports95.com, (11) sports95.org, (12) sportswwe.net, (13) sportswwe.tv, (14) sportswwe.com, (15) youwwe.net, and (16) youwwe.com.

"This enforcement action by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations, in coordination with our partners at the IPR Center, sends a strong message to website operators who mistakenly believe it's worth the risk to take copyrighted programming and portray it as their own," said ICE Director John Morton. "Protecting legitimate business interests are a priority for our agency. We will continue to investigate illegal streaming of programming on the Internet in an effort to preserve legitimate and creative business interests and deter others from engaging in this online criminal activity."

"Sports fans may be tempted by illegal streaming websites, but in the end, it is they who pay the price," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Southern District of New York. "These websites and their operators deprive sports leagues and networks of legitimate revenue, forcing spectators and viewers to bear the cost of this piracy down the line. Yonjo Quiroa's arrest and these 16 seizures underscore our commitment to stopping this virtual thievery."

The website seizures during Operation Fake Sweep represent the 10th phase of Operation In Our Sites, a sustained law enforcement initiative targeting counterfeiting and piracy on the Internet.

The following allegations are based on the complaint in Manhattan federal court, and the seizure warrant through which the website domain names were seized:

It is estimated that each year sports leagues and broadcasters lose millions of dollars from the illegal distribution of copyrighted, live sporting events over the Internet. Such piracy threatens the investment that broadcasters and digital media companies are willing to make to distribute live content; the leagues’ ability to sell game tickets and secure local television and radio carriage; and the value of advertising revenue generated by broadcast, radio, and new media partners. Sports fans are also victims, as the costs expended by sports leagues in an effort to address on-line piracy are passed on to fans when they purchase tickets or subscribe to sports networks.

In 2010 and 2011, Quiroa registered nine of the 16 seized domain names, and he operated the websites out of his home in Michigan until his arrest. Quiroa received profits of at least $13,000 from online merchants who paid him, through Internet advertising brokers, to advertise on at least one of the linking sites that he operated.

The 16 websites seized provided access to illegal, pirated telecasts of sporting events of the NFL, the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL), World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and the TNA Impact Wrestling (TNA) – all of which hold the copyrights to the televised broadcasts of their respective sporting events.

The seized sites were popular "linking" sites – a type of website that provides access, or links, to other websites that hosted pirated sporting and pay-per-view events. At such sites, users simply click on a link to begin the process of downloading or streaming an illegal broadcast of a sporting event to their own computer. These illegal broadcasts are from a third party website that is hosting the stream. Linking websites are popular because they allow users to quickly browse content and locate illegal streams that would otherwise be more difficult to find.

As authorized by the warrant, all visitors to these websites are being redirected to a banner that advises them that the domain name has been seized in connection with criminal copyright violations.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York will seek to have the domain names for the seized websites forfeited.

This operation was coordinated with the IPR Center. The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. The IPR Center uses the expertise of its 20 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety, the U.S. economy and the war fighters.

U.S. Attorney Bharara praised the work of ICE HSI. He added that the investigation is continuing. The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Surratt is in charge of the prosecution.

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