The BPI can report that a Morecambe-based motor dealer has been exposed as the ringleader of a music piracy operation going back to 2016. John Waldie, 56, is believed to have made £464,000 from illegally dealing in counterfeit CDs.

Waldie was sentenced to 18 months in prison by Preston Crown Court on 13th August 2020. He admitted to 16 counts of trademark infringements relating to thousands of high quality counterfeit CDs, which had been manufactured in China, including albums by Adele, Justin Bieber, Coldplay, One Direction, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. Convicted alongside Waldie, though with lesser penalties, were his partner Sarah Forsyth, 47, and their co-defendant Adam Keates, 32. Keates also pleaded guilty to converting £16,988 of criminal property through his bank account.

The prosecution of the three defendants was based on evidence painstakingly gathered by the BPI’s Content Protection Unit following an investigation which began in 2016 and was passed on to Lancashire County Council Trading Standards.

Consumers and the online trading platforms involved, including Amazon and eBay, would have had no idea that the discs were fakes. This means each and every purchase of a fake CD was a directly displaced sale that should instead have gone to the artist and label concerned, and which also denied a retail opportunity. The revenue in lost sales, when considering the period the businesses were in operation before intervention, together with revenue saved by virtue of product seized, ran to hundreds of thousands of pounds.  For the criminals the prospect of seemingly easy money ended up meaning jail and other penalties.

Nick McNamara, Principal Officer (Legal) at Trading Standards Service, Lancashire County Council, said:

“This was a sophisticated counterfeiting operation where high quality Chinese counterfeits were sold as genuine to unsuspecting members of the public. Waldie's lengthy jail term shows how seriously the courts treat this kind of offending. We're grateful to the BPI and all the trademark holders and financial institutions that came together to help us secure these convictions.”

Chris Sheehan, BPI Content Protection Investigator, said: “Selling fake CDs is illegal. Whether it’s on a street corner or online, it makes no difference. It’s a criminal offence.

“The 18 month prison sentence given to the ringleader is a strong message to others that music piracy is not a quick way to make money. On the contrary, it’s a quick way to get yourself sent to prison. It rips off consumers, it rips off legitimate retailers and it rips off the artists and record labels who go unrewarded for their time, investment and creativity.

"Lancashire Trading Standards has done a great job in bringing these three criminals to justice, and BPI has gained some further intelligence that will help us investigate other criminals and protect consumers from fake CDs and vinyl.

Paola Monaldi, who heads the BPI’s Content Protection Unit, said: “On behalf of the BPI and its members I wish to thank Lancashire Trading Standards and the involved authorities for all their efforts closing down this criminal operation. We continue to work closely with online platforms and law enforcement agencies to uncover illicit operations and protect the interests of artists and labels.”

About the BPI investigation

Following the pro-active monitoring of the marketplace by BPI Investigators, various accounts listing current top selling CDs at very low prices were identified. Several test purchases were made from these accounts and examination of the CDs confirmed they were High Quality Counterfeit (HQC) copies manufactured in China.

Further investigation revealed HQC discs were being sold by Waldie Enterprises Ltd via Amazon and eBay. This also brought to light other individuals and entities which were potentially implicated. Five search warrants were executed by Lancashire Trading Standards. Initially approximately 3200 CDs were seized from a Motor Dealership owned by John Waldie. Amazon then closed down the accounts that Waldie was using.

As Amazon were fulfilling the orders for the company, delivery up of the discs was requested.  All the Amazon stock totalling nearly 6500 CDs was eventually seized from Amazon premises.

Consumers would have had no idea that the discs were fakes. This means each and every purchase was a directly displaced sale. The revenue in lost sales, when considering the period the businesses were in operation before intervention, together with revenue saved by virtue of product seized, ran to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Three individuals were finally indicted and following a hearing at Preston Crown Court on Jan 7, 2020, guilty pleas were received from all three. A fourth defendant had since died during the investigation. In mitigation Waldie chose to blame this individual for the crime.

In disputing the prosecution case that he played a "central role" and that he gained £464,000 as a result of the Amazon sales, the Judge indicated that the this figure was critical to sentencing and would have to be determined via a Newton trial of issue.

The Judge at Preston Court said: “I also conclude that he made a substantial benefit. The figure of £464,765.71 is claimed by the Crown to represent his receipts as a gross sum. Others were clearly involved, and these were the costs of running this illegal enterprise, purchasing, marketing, selling and delivering the counterfeit goods. For the purpose of sentence, I am of the view that a figure of £200,000 to £300,000 is a figure that may assist in assessing “Harm” for the purpose of any Guidelines.

On 13th August 2020, the Judge, in rejecting all Waldie’s arguments, assessed the benefit figure at £464K and sentenced the defendants as follows:

John Waldie – 16 counts of Trademark Infringement; sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

Sarah Forsyth (Waldie’s partner) – 3 counts of Trademark Infringement; sentenced to 40 hrs unpaid community work

Adam Keates – 5 counts of Trade Mark Infringement and I count of Money Laundering; sentenced to 4 months imprisonment, suspended for a year, and 100 hours of unpaid work for converting £16,987.60 of criminal property through his bank account, which payments for sales of counterfeit CDs sold via Amazon went into.