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Music scammers are rocked by court case; Trio's jukebox firm had pounds 3m turnover.

Byline: Dan Warburton

AMULTI-MILLION pound scam involving illegal music sales has been uncovered in the North East.

Rogue traders at a digital jukebox firm, which had a pounds 3m turnover, duped the music industry out of pounds 850,000 over seven years as they distributed copyrighted tunes without permission.

During a crude operation that stretched the length of the country, the three men behind Gateshead-based Access All Areas raked in hundreds of thousands of pounds by selling their music systems to clubs and pubs at prices ranging from pounds 5,000 to pounds 70,000.

Now, following a landmark legal case, William Ross, 66, of Australia Tower, Sunderland, Malcolm Wylie, 59, of Salcombe Gardens, Low Fell, Gateshead, and Peter Wylie, 27, of Malton Green Gardens, Harlow Green, Gateshead, are all facing jail.

Their scam was uncovered when music industry bosses raided their property in May 2008 and uncovered a hoard of illegal systems being prepared for the market.

Officials claim they struck at more than 200 businesses across the country, with at least 100 left out-of-pocket in Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland and County Durham.

Richard Stewart, head of dubbing and tariff development at Phonographic Products Limited (PPL), the music industry licence watchdog, said: "This is the first joint-prosecution between PPL and British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and I am very pleased to see it come to a successful conclusion with the conviction of all three defendants.

"The defendants supplied illegal audio and video jukeboxes to the leisure industry since 2001 and in this period had a turnover of more than pounds 3m.

"It was quite apparent from the prosecution evidence that they traded through a series of phoenix companies defrauding not only our members out of many hundreds of thousands of pounds of revenue, but also deceiving scores of companies across the UK including hundreds of licensees who in good faith paid substantial sums to the fraudsters for what they were led to believe was a fully-licensed system."

Their business premises were raided in 2008 and officers discovered half-built systems littered across the property on Kingsway North, Team Valley, Gateshead.

Stacks of computers brimming with illegal music were also discovered in the operation between officials from PPL and a team from Gateshead Council's trading standards.

No financial accounts were kept inside the building, making estimates of the company's profits difficult, but it is thought they accrued a turnover of more than pounds 3m in just seven years.

Operating under at least seven different names, company bosses eluded capture by repeatedly declaring themselves bankrupt before launching another company.

Fran Nevrkla, chairman of PPL, said: "This result is a fantastic one for both PPL and the BPI. This not only sends out a very clear message that we take determined action to defend our members'' rights, but it also shows that by working together we can combine our expertise to achieve the best possible results.

"We hope this will be the first of many successful collaborations in tackling issues like these by successfully challenging those who intend to profit from illegal use of recorded music.

"The music industry should feel very proud of the BPI Anti-Piracy Unit."

Gateshead Council originally charged the company and its three managers with a string of copyright charges, but dropped the prosecution because of the growing costs of the case.

During a hearing at Newcastle Crown Court earlier this month, Malcolm Wylie and William Ross pleaded guilty to copyright offences. Peter Wylie, opted for a trial and was found guilty this week.

The trio were released on bail and will be sentenced on July 1. Anneliese Hutchinson, head of regulatory services at Gateshead Council, welcomed the outcome.

She said: "We are delighted to hear of the successful prosecution of Access All Areas by the PPL and the BPI.

"Whilst Gateshead Council conducted the initial investigation into Access All Areas, we handed over the case to the BPI due to the complex nature of the legislation involved and the specialist knowledge required.

"We then worked extremely closely with the BPI to ensure this successful outcome so it is gratifying to see all our hard work pay off.

"Gateshead Council works closely with organisations like the BPI to ensure maximum protection of consumer rights."

SEVEN-YEAR SCAM GATESHEAD-based Access All Areas evaded paying music licensing bodies PPL and the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) fees during their seven-year scam.

Among those affected in the illegal operation were high-profile recording artists including Robbie Williams, Lady GaGa and Girls Aloud. On their website the firm claimed to be fully licensed and used both company trademarks to market their Mixopia computerised jukeboxes.

The company changed names several times and in May 2008, trading standards executed a warrant on behalf of PPL and the BPI to raid their offices.

Evidence of copyright infringement was discovered, which over the years had totalled hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Among the company's trading names was Access All Areas Entertainment, Access All Areas Production and Tracks Alive.

It sold and rented audio and visual jukeboxes to pubs and other leisure venues, sparking a prosecution by PPL and BPI, which represent record labels.

An initial probe by the council led to charges being brought against Access All Areas Production Ltd and Rent-A-System, both based at Kingsway North, Team Valley, Gateshead. This was followed through by PPL, the music licensing company which, on behalf of 42,000 performers and 5,000 record companies, licenses recorded music.

This enables TV and radio stations, online streaming services and hundreds of thousands of shops, pubs and others using music in their business to obtain a single licence comprising millions of recordings.


UNCOVERED Peter Wylie is facing jail following a landmark legal case
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 20, 2010
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