Despite downloading nearly 8,000 files from Sony Music Entertainment’s servers – including unreleased music from Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Elvis Presley and others – two British men have surprisingly avoided jail time in their sentencing following pleading guilty to hacking into the servers and illegally downloading the music files.
Fascinatingly enough, the two men – 27 year-old James Marks and 26 year-old James McCormick – have said that they initially broke into the systems seeking not unreleased music or even free music, but instead proof that some of the Michael Jackson songs that Sony had released following the singer’s death actually featured a session singer impersonating the famed singer instead of the real thing. Originally, in fact, an attorney defending the two had claimed that it was the pair’s love of Michael Jackson that meant that neither would have broken into Sony Music’s servers at all, with Karen Todner telling Billboard Magazine in March of last year that the two “are eager to point out to Michael Jackson’s fans and family that they would never do anything to harm the legacy that is Michael Jackson’s music.” In fact, she added, “As Michael Jackson has said, ‘Lies run sprints but the truth runs marathons.'”
An unfortunate metaphor to use, considering that both men later admitted that, yes, they had actually used their home computers to hack into Sony’s servers and download the music. Although, Marks maintains, he didn’t download 7,900 files at all; he Tweeted this weekend “Please don’t believe the press, or [the British Serious Organized Crime Agency] 7,900 files… wasn’t it 49,000 last year? It’s more like 300 files they added files from elsewhere.” (At the time of the arrests of the pair, Sony Music refused to reveal how many files had been stolen during the break-in, with the figure being released by British authorities during legal proceedings later. It’s possible that Marks is considering completed songs “files,” as opposed to the authorities, which are referring to individual pieces of each track as one file.)
According to British authorities, the motive of Marks and McCormick was somewhat less altruistic than they would want you to believe, with chatlogs recovered from their computers after their arrest in May 2011 revealing that the two planned to share and sell the unreleased music. Gregor McGill, head of organized crime at the Crown Prosecution Service, said after the sentencing that “in simple terms, these men broke into a computer systems and took music files that were not theirs to take. That was criminal activity.”
Following the guilty plea, both men received six month sentences, suspended for one year, with each additionally having to complete 100 hours of community service on top of their suspended sentence. Responding to the sentence, James Marks Tweeting that he had “mixed emotions” about it, adding that he was grateful to the Court “for being lenient,” and that he apologized to Sony after “fully accept[ing that] I accessed the server.”