Fake audiobook seller jailed

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The Independent Online

A man who conned people with counterfeit audiobooks, including the best-selling Harry Potter tales, was today jailed for 21 months.

Andrew Sloper, 42, made and sold fake CDs and DVDs of best-selling stories - amassing more than £85,000 for himself and robbing the publishing industry of around a million pounds.

Sloper was sentenced today at Derby Crown Court after pleading guilty to a number of offences of infringing copyright and selling goods with false trademarks.

He also asked for eight other offences to be taken into consideration.

Sloper, of Dale Road, Alvaston, Derby, had set up a "sophisticated and determined" cottage industry in a room in his modest three-bedroomed home.

He copied DVDs and CDs of popular audiobooks including the Lemony Snicket children's books, the Lord Of The Rings series, the Narnia Chronicles, and also Michel Thomas language courses.

He then sold them to order over the internet auction site eBay - using up to 37 aliases over the five-year scam.

The court heard Sloper was originally caught out by Trading Standards in 2003, and told to stop the scam.

But he continued and developed a more sophisticated scheme, setting up aliases to his email address and only completing a few sales for each one.

Marilyn Nair, prosecuting, said he was selling sets of the first six Harry Potter audiobooks for only £6.49 - compared to a retail price of around £300.

A bank account set up for his ill-gotten gains showed £68,477.81 had been paid to him through the internet PayPal system, but it is estimated he made a further £17,000 from cheques and postal orders.

The court heard Sloper's total profit was £85,485, but the estimated retail loss to the publishing industry is £1,175,974.

The prosecution was brought by Derbyshire Police, Derby Trading Standards, and the Publishers Association.

Few counterfeit goods were recovered from Sloper's house when police searched, as he said he only made the goods to order.

His well-thought out scam had used ordinary Epson printers, but Sloper had even set up ink reservoirs on the wall of the room to allow him to keep his business running more cheaply.

Despite making around £3,000 a month from the scheme at its height, the court was told Sloper's wife continued her job in an off-licence, and they did not live a "lavish lifestyle."

The court heard he had a drink problem and it was likely most of the proceeds had been spent on alcohol.

Sentencing him to 21 months in prison, Recorder John Aucott told Sloper: "It is not a victimless crime, because although you have enriched yourself to the extent of £85,000 you have deceived the public and you have reduced the revenues owing to the copyright owners by more than a million pounds.

"There has to be a reckoning.

"This is not intended to be a crushing sentence, but it's intended to mark society's displeasure at your attempt to enrich yourself and deceive the public who you purported to serve."

Anita Goodman, defending Sloper, said his attempt to make money had grown into the £3,000 a month scam, but he could not explain why.

She said: "There were no new cars, no substantial purchases, nothing to suggest that this level of income was coming into the house."

She said Sloper had recently taken a job at Sainsbury's and was trying to get his life back on track.

Speaking after the hearing Robert Hamadi, from the Publishers Association, said counterfeiting had a significant effect on the country's £5 billion a year publishing industry.

He said: "Counterfeiting is not a victimless crime.

"Offences of this nature threaten the substantial contribution which the publishing industry makes to the economy and strike directly at the jobs of hard-working men and women.

"The publishing industry's approach to tackling counterfeiting is robust and sends a clear message to all offenders.

"As this case shows, we will detect and investigate these criminals and bring down the full force of the law upon them."

A spokesman for Derby Trading Standards added: "I think this is an appropriate sentence, it was a very successful joint operation between the police, Trading Standards, much helped by Mr Hamadi.

"This is a man who was led astray into a severe degree of criminality by the thought that it was a victimless crime."