Underbelly: articles

Police eye elite 'Underbelly' pirates

Information has been obtained which could lead authorities directly to the first person who put Underbelly online, ninemsn can reveal.

It is understood the first copy of the gangster drama — which was available online at 10.50pm last night — was recorded from an illegal online live stream of the show.

The premiere episode of Underbelly has already been downloaded online at least 2500 times since last night, and close to 10,000 other people are currently trying to download it.

Supreme Court judge Justice Betty King last week issued a suppression order preventing the series from being screened on television in Victoria or online, citing concern it could prejudice a murder trial.

A source told ninemsn the ISP address of the first person to upload the show had been obtained by the Nine Network and lawyers for the station were considering legal action.

The network said in a statement that any uploading of Underbelly is "an infringement of our copyright".

"We do not condone any other parties interfering with our rights and if necessary we will take legal action," the statement read.

The first upload of Underbelly was at 10.50pm last night, just 20 minutes after the two-hour special had finished broadcasting in New South Wales.

The format of that file is leading investigators to believe that it was recorded from an illegal live internet stream of the program, which may have been distributed among Victoria residents who could not watch it on television.

By 1am the first high-quality version of the file had appeared online, and at 5am someone had uploaded a version which allowed users to burn the show directly to DVD.

The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) is currently investigating the matter, and is expected to make a list of recommendations to Victoria Police.

"It is a criminal offence to upload copyrighted property," AFACT operations operations Neil Gane said.

“We are investigating a members-only site that, as of today, is listing Underbelly as well as various other movie and TV titles."

Victoria Police were waiting for a report from AFACT or a decision from the Department of Public Prosecutions before pursuing the matter, a spokeswoman said.

The special two-episode broadcast attracted almost 1.5 million viewers at its peak last night and 1.3 million on average, missing out on an estimated 800,000 to 1 million viewers because of the ban.

"Anyone about my age is going to want to download it," said 24-year-old Melbourne resident Al, who did not want his surname published.

"The fact they've gone to the trouble to get an injunction is going to make everyone want to see it more."

There are currently no copies of Underbelly on YouTube, and a source tells ninemsn that staff at the website are actively moderating uploads to take any down they appear.

But dozens of other lesser-known Bit Torrent sites are attracting thousands of downloads, according to AFACT.

"It doesn't come as much of a surprise unfortunately," Mr Gane said.

"Where there's a demand for a particular product, eventually these groups that are involved in online privacy will supply it."

The appearance of the file online comes amid reports the banned show was broadcast in at least two Melbourne hotels last night via satellite feeds.

Mr Gane said Victoria Police were cracking down on copyright theft and piracy, and the AFACT was giving them its full support.

"The Victorian police are now recognising it as a very profitable crime," he said.

"They will continue to target and take force action against large distributors of movie and TV shows," he said.

People caught uploading clips from Underbelly could face copyright and contempt of court charges.

The show screened at 8.30pm last night in the rest of the country and was a massive ratings success for the Nine Network, peaking at 1,476,000 viewers nationally even though it was not shown in Victoria.

It has been speculated that if the show was screened in Melbourne, the city where the gangland drama is set, it would have added another 800,000 to 1,000,000 viewers to its ratings.

By Henri Paget
February 14, 2008