GRAFTON — The state prison system is conducting an internal investigation into allegations that a guard at Lorain Correctional Institution showed pirated movies to inmates.
The investigation was launched in response to internal complaints filed by Richard Humphrey, a former North Ridgeville man who served 29 months in a federal prison for running a subscription-based website through which he illegally distributed copyrighted movies, computer games and software.
JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said Friday that she couldn’t comment on details of the ongoing investigation, although she added that no one has been disciplined or placed on leave as a result of the probe.
Humphrey, 26, was held at Lorain Correctional from Feb. 28 through May 6 after violating the terms of his post-release control on an unrelated state charge of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, Smith said.
Court records indicate that Humphrey pleaded guilty to that charge in 2010, which centered on allegations he had sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl, although he said Friday that the girl’s online profile claimed she was 21 and he didn’t realize her age until he was contacted by police. He was given one year in prison in that case and served the state sentence while he was doing his federal time.
Humphrey said he was sent back to prison earlier this year because he got into a fight with his brother while he was intoxicated, which was considered a violation by his parole officer. He said almost as soon as he arrived at the prison he saw pirated movies being played for the inmates.
“I was blown away it was happening because it was an intake pod,” he said, which he described as the first stop for inmates being processed into the state prison system.
He said he saw “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Ride Along” and other films while incarcerated and that the movies had not yet been released on DVD.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” was released on DVD on March 25, while “Ride Along” was released on DVD on April 15.
Humphrey said he didn’t think it was right for a prison to be showing illegally obtained movies to inmates.
“It’s hypocritical for sure, and it’s just not right,” he said.
Humphrey said he complained to prison officials several times and followed up with Warden Kimberly Clipper after he was released from prison earlier this month. In a recording of a phone call between Clipper and Humphrey posted on the website ScrollDog.com, Clipper assured him the matter was being looked into.
Humphrey said he doesn’t believe the prison system plans to do much about the pirated movies.
“They’re just trying to dust it under the rug because they know it’s going on,” he said. “…They don’t think it’s a big deal.”
Smith said there is an active investigation into whether an employee brought unapproved movies into the prison. She said the prison system has a policy that requires movies to be reviewed and approved before they are played for prisoners.
Humphrey said he didn’t realize how serious copyright infringement was until he became the subject of a federal investigation that resulted in the seizure of his computers and servers. He said he often just fast-forwarded through the FBI anti-piracy warning that appears on most DVD copies of movies.
“They were just a hobby,” he said. “I didn’t understand the severity.”
But according to federal prosecutors, Humphrey turned his hobby into a business, distributing copies of movies through his website, USAWarez.com, and other online sites between December 2006 and October 2007.
“Many of the films the defendant distributed from his web sites were still playing in theaters or were not yet available on DVD,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum in federal court. “From his sites, the defendant distributed thousands of infringing copies of movies and television shows without authorization from copyright holders.”
Prosecutors also wrote that while Humphrey gave away many movies for free, he also charged $16 per year for “VIP Membership” beginning in May 2007. The retail value of the copyright infringement that Humphrey admitted to was between $10,000 and $30,000, according to court documents.
In a video posted on TorrentFreak.com, Humphrey described himself as “pro pirate” and argued that “draconian” copyright infringement laws need to be reformed and costs cut in order to make content more affordable.
He said the problem of illegal content is so widespread that even those charged with enforcing the laws and rehabilitating those who break them are doing the same thing.
“How do you expect someone to be rehabilitated when there’s authority figures that are running those institutions that are copyright infringing?” he asked in the video.
Humphrey also said in the video that this isn’t the first time he’s encountered pirated movies while locked up. He said while he was incarcerated as a juvenile he also watched illegally copied material.
Juvenile Court Administrator Jody Barilla said Humphrey was held at the Lorain County Juvenile Detention Home on eight separate occasions between 2003 and 2005, but there was no record of complaints being filed during that time period about pirated movies being shown.
She said the Detention Home has a contract with a company that holds a public performance license to show G- and PG-rated movies at the facility. That contract has been in place since 2001.