Two British men have escaped a jail term for using a security flaw in a Sony Music service to download thousands of music files from its US servers, threatening to undermine its $250 million investment in unreleased Michael Jackson tracks.
James Marks, a 27 year-old, and James McCormick, aged 26, were on Friday handed six month suspended sentences for one year and 100 hours community service for hacking the music giant in 2011.
The pair were arrested in May 2011 after Sony discovered the breach, and were initially accused of downloading 50,000 Sony Music files -- at the time thought to include the entire trove of unreleased tracks from Michael Jackson that the company planned to release across 10 albums.
Sony had paid the Jackson Estate $250 million for the rights to sell the back catalogue and unreleased tracks in 2010, shortly after the pop star’s death.
According to the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), Marks and McCormick gained access to Sony’s US servers by using a “compromised e-card” that Sony insiders used to share files with people outside the company. The pair on Friday were accused of only stealing 7,900 files from Sony.
They were not the first to exploit the e-card, according to the BBC, but SOCA said McCormick had written a script to speed up the process of siphoning off the files.
SOCA added that chatlogs recovered from their hard drives showed they planned to sell or trade some of the files, countering the pair’s initial claims they were only seeking evidence that Jackson’s vocals on some tracks were by another singer.
Marks and McCormick pleaded guilty to two computer misuse offences last September after denying these and separate charges under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act last March, according to the Guardian.