Michael Jackson fans accused of hacking Sony Server receive suspended sentences

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Two Michael Jackson fans that stood accused of hacking crimes were handed suspended sentences yesterday after the prosecution made a deal with the defendants in which all serious charges were dropped in exchange for a guilty plea on an “unauthorised access to computing material” charge.

The court heard that a security flaw in the system used by Sony Music to share music with colleagues, artists and producers (known as the “Sony Server”) was responsible for allowing James Marks, 27, and Jamie McCormick, 26, access to thousands of copyrighted files.

The truth of the matter, however, is that no such security flaw existed. In fact, the Sony Server has been completely unsecured for quite some time, with links to files hosted there easily found with a simple Google search. Hundreds of people, including at least half a dozen more Jackson fans, have long had access to the servers. Yet, only these two individuals have been arrested and charged.

Their case was investigated by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, also know as “SOCA”.

SOCA raided both men’s houses 19 months ago before arresting them, seizing all their computers and storage devices, including USBs, hard drives, compact discs and DVDs (including many items legally purchased from music stores).

Head of cyber investigations at SOCA, Mick Jamieson, claimed that Marks and McCormick knew exactly what they were doing when accessing the Sony Server, and knew the consequences for doing so.

“The internet’s a fantastic tool for everyone to use, but sadly there are one or two individuals who choose to misuse it”, Jamieson continued. “The authorities are now able to to identify what you’re doing, find out who you are, and come and arrest you.”

The case of Marks and McCormick centres around the pair’s quest to find evidence proving Sony Music and the Michael Jackson Estate had defrauded millions of fellow Jackson fans around the world when they released the “Michael” album in December 2010.

The album, which has sold more than two million copies worldwide to date, included three songs believed by many, including the entire Jackson family, to be fraudulent. These three songs, along with nine others that remain unreleased, were provided to Sony and the Michael Jackson Estate by Jackson’s longtime friend Eddie Cascio, through his production company “Angelikson Productions”.

The songs became infamously known by Michael Jackson fans as the “Cascio tracks”.

The media’s assertion that the men accessed the Sony Server in order to steal music, including Michael Jackson’s entire catalog, is completely untrue. In fact over the years Marks and McCormick, as two of Michael Jackson’s biggest fans, have legally purchased copies of all Jackson’s music — purchases which have financially benefitted Sony Music themselves.

“Please dont believe the press, or SOCA…” asked Marks, expressing that the 7,900 files he and McCormick stood accused of downloading was completely inaccurate.

“The reason we were on those servers was to find the Cascio tracks.”

Marks and McCormick, along with thousands of other Jackson fans, insist that the vocals on the Cascio tracks were recorded by well-known Michael Jackson soundalike Jason Malachi.

“According to the prosecution, I downloaded Jason Malachi files from the Sony Server too”, Marks revealed, explaining that SOCA had confused the contents of a generic Firefox Downloads folder on his computer with what had been obtained from the Sony Server.

Of course, Jason Malachi is not a Sony Music artist. His music, along with most of the 7,600-odd files Marks insists he did not steal, have never been located on the Sony Server at all.

The original charges levelled at Marks and McCormick were much more serious than the eventual “unauthorised access” charges, and carried much heavier legal penalties should they go to trial and be found guilty. Among the most serious was a charge of conspiracy to defraud.

This charge was based on chat logs discovered by SOCA during a sweep of their computer hard drives. Marks and McCormick were shown to have had conversations in which they discussed the possibility of selling certain files they had recently obtained.

However, this conversation took place in March 2011 – one month before they had discovered the Sony Server.

“Those conversations were regarding privately obtained material, before any server access took place” confirmed Marks.

The pair had purchased material from fellow Jackson fans. They paid a mere 80 pounds for a CD of unreleased Michael Jackson demos.

“We discussed the possibility of selling them to other fans”, explained Marks, “but we decided against it, and that was that. No sale was made and we never shared the material. We didn’t want to risk being responsible for the songs leaking to the public.”

The underground trade and sale of unreleased recordings is not something exclusive to the Michael Jackson community. It is common practice for fans of many artists to circulate rare and unreleased files amongst themselves. In fact, this even happens publicly on websites such as eBay.com

So if these activities are common practice, and many fans have access to the Sony Servers, why were Mr. Marks and Mr. McCormick targeted?

The answer is simple: The only material on Marks’ and McCormick’s checklist was the Cascio tracks, which they planned on using to expose Sony, the Michael Jackson Estate, and Angelikson Productions for their fraud.

Speaking outside court, Mr. Marks apologized for downloading files from the Sony Server, but confirmed he was still determined to prove Michael Jackson didn’t sing on the Cascio tracks.

“Mixed emotions”, said Marks by Twitter. “I’m greatful to the Judge for being lenient. I fully accept that I accessed the server, and apologize to Sony.”

All computers and storage devices seized in raids by SOCA, including a hard drive consisting entirely of thousands of personal family photos belonging to Marks’ mother, were made subject to forfeiture and destruction.

Follow: twitter.com/damienshields

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