By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Hollywood is demanding that “severe criminal penalties” be imposed against Bahamian ‘celebrity hacker’, Alonzo Knowles, when he is sentenced by the southern New York federal court on September 30.
Court documents obtained by Tribune Business reveal that the US media and entertainment industry, and several celebrities, are demanding that his punishment be “significant enough” to deter others from engaging in similar activities.
The documents also reveal the identities of some of Mr Knowles’ victims, including Twentieth Century Fox, one of the world’s largest movie production studios, and the actress-singer Naturi Naughton, formerly part of the 3LW R&B trio.
The ‘victim impact’ statements by Twentieth Century Fox, part of News Corporation, the global media conglomerate headed by Rupert Murdoch, and another celebrity whose identity has been withheld will add to the pressure for a lengthy jail sentence for the Grand Bahama native.
Ranged against these corporations and ‘high society’ victims, Mr Knowles has only letters from his father, other family members and girlfriend, pleading for leniency.
The September 12, 2016, letter from a Fox Entertainment Group executive, whose identity has been withheld, to the southern New York US attorney’s office reveals that Mr Knowles’s hacking efforts stole scripts for an unreleased television series and movie.
“Knowles’ illegal theft and offer to sell the scripts has caused tremendous harm to Fox,” the US attorney’s office was told.
“Fox has expended millions of dollars, and thousands of hours, in developing, shaping, producing, shooting, editing and polishing the Fox Properties, resulting in finished products that Fox intended would fulfill the fans’ and creators’ great expectations for this series and film….
“By offering the scripts for sale, Knowles has undermined the enormous resources and efforts expended by these hundreds of individuals who worked tirelessly to make the Fox Properties a reality.”
The Fox Entertainment Group executive added that Mr Knowles’ sale of the scripts (to an undercover law enforcement agent) before the TV series and movie were both publicly released would have undermined the value of their rights and the public’s viewing experience.
It would also have cost Fox revenue from lower viewing figures and advertising revenues associated with the TV series, and lower ticket sales and rentals for the film.
“In those relatively rare cases when someone is caught and prosecuted for piracy such as this, we always hope that the prosecution will take the opportunity to send a strong message to would-be-pirates of filmed entertainment,” the Fox Entertainment Group executive urged.
“A severe criminal penalty would send the message that stealing intellectual property is a serious crime that carries with it serious consequences.
“Fox would greatly appreciate the court’s imposition of a sentence in line with the tremendous harm caused by Knowles’ criminal activities, and significant enough to ensure that others are deterred from engaging in this sort of crime.”
This adds further weight to the push by the US district attorney for a 27-33 month prison term for Mr Knowles, a duration above the range suggested by advisory guidelines, because “a substantial term of imprisonment is justified to reflect the seriousness of the offense, promote respect for the law, and provide deterrence for this defendant”.
US government attorneys are arguing that the magnitude of potential copyright losses suffered by Fox and others means that existing sentencing guidelines “do not accurately capture the gravity” of the offences committed by the Grand Bahama native.
Mr Knowles in May pleaded guilty to electronically hacking more than 100 global celebrities, and stealing unreleased movie and TV scripts, social security numbers and private sex videos.
The case, though, drives home how important the protection of intellectual property rights (copyright) is in the modern world’s economic and trading environment – and especially to a country such as the Bahamas, which wants to develop a knowledge-based economy.
The Bahamas has already committed to protecting intellectual property rights via the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), and recently upgraded its legislation in this area in anticipation of acceding to full World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership.
However, as with most laws, it now faces the trickier task of enforcing them and living up to its international obligations, as highlighted by the numerous sellers of pirated DVDs and CDs throughout New Providence.
However, the victim statements in Mr Knowles’ trial show intellectual property theft is not a victimless crime. Ms Naughton is due to give a victim impact statement vis video, and the US attorney’s office has also obtained a statement from another unnamed celebrity.
They described themselves as “humiliated” when they learned “that sensitive, personal information was in the hands of someone who didn’t care about the untold damage and ramifications it would have on my life and lives of those who care about me”.
“That’s not only criminal; it’s cruel,” they added. “When I think about what potentially could have happened had this person [Mr Knowles] not been apprehended, my eyes well with tears and I feel ashamed, even though intellectually I know that I shouldn’t feel that way.”
Explaining that they were “too embarrassed” to disclose what had happened to their friends and family, the celebrity added: “I’ve had to live with this deep sense of anxiety and uncertainty.
“I feel violated, disrespected and exposed. This has been a difficult situation for me to deal with, but knowing this person is facing significant punishment allows me to have some measure of peace.”