Paul Mahoney from Londonderry, who had £82,000 in cash hidden in his home, receives four-year sentence...

A man whose bedroom-run internet piracy scam put the film industry at risk of losing an estimated £120m has been handed a four-year sentence, half of which will be spent in prison.

Paul Mahoney, 29, from Londonderry, made almost £300,000 through advertising revenue generated from his illegal websites offering access to the latest films and TV shows – many before general release.

During the six-year period he operated the racket, the partially blind Mahoney claimed about £12,000 in state benefits.

Approximately £82,400 in cash was found hidden in the home he shared with his parents when police searched the property in the Carnhill area of Derry.

Mahoney was sentenced at the city’s crown court on Tuesday having pleaded guilty earlier this year to a series of offences, including conspiracy to defraud the film industry.

The investigation was led by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) in conjunction with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Passing sentence, judge Philip Babington branded Mahoney’s scheme “cunning and clever”.

“These offences represent offending of a very serious nature, which undoubtedly put at risk many millions of pounds as far as the greater entertainment industry is concerned, ” he said.

“Offending such as this affects everyone in society, at the end of the day, although primarily the interests of those involved in film production, the results of which we all enjoy.

“You put together a very sophisticated scheme which allowed users to view films on many millions of occasions for nothing and at the same time this allowed you to make money from advertising. I am quite satisfied that you knew exactly what you were doing.

I am puzzled to a degree as to why you did it.”

The judge said such crimes had to be deterred and therefore he had no alternative but to impose an immediate custodial sentence.

Mahoney, dressed in a black and white tracksuit and grey T-shirt, showed no emotion as he was led from the dock by guards.

He launched his fraudulent business in 2007 and over the years changed his website name a further three times to evade detection.

During this period, he was served with a cease and desist notice by Fact and was arrested twice by the PSNI. Despite these interventions, he continued to run the fraud.

His websites offered users links to third-party servers on which illegal movie and TV show copies had been uploaded. Mahoney also operated one of these servers himself and found content on others by using complex software he paid criminal programmers to develop for him.

Director general of Fact, Kieron Sharp, was in court for the sentence hearing and welcomed the prison term.

“There is a deterrent message that needs to be sent out to others who take part in this type of crime,” he said. “The industry is determined to make sure that people don’t take the product that they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars or pounds on and they don’t take it for free.”