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Hackers sentenced for Michael Jackson music theft

Published: Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

LONDON – A British court sentenced two hackers to 100 hours of community service on Friday for stealing a treasure trove of unreleased music – including Michael Jackson tracks – from the U.S. servers of Sony Music Entertainment.

Officials said that music aficionados James Marks, 27, and James McCormick, 26, used their home computers to access Sony's servers and scour them for Jackson-related material. The pair downloaded nearly 8,000 files, including completed or partial tracks, artwork, and videos relating to Jackson and other unspecified Sony artists.

The precise nature of the unreleased material hasn't been made clear – Sony refused to comment on the case. A statement from Britain's Serious and Organized Crime Agency identified some of the material as stems, which are audio tracks that can be used in mixes and overdubs.

Marks and McCormick – who met online – were arrested in May 2011 after Sony alerted U.K. law enforcement to the breach. Chat logs recovered from their computers showed that they planned to sell or trade some of the files.

The theft could have been damaging for Sony had the music been released to the Web. The company has a seven-year deal, worth up to $250 million, to sell unreleased recordings by Jackson, who died in 2009 at the age of 50.

Marks and McCormick initially pleaded their innocence in public, releasing a statement saying that they "would never do anything to harm the legacy that is Michael Jackson's music." But the pair later pleaded guilty to two counts of "unauthorized access to computer material" in September.

Their community service order was handed down at central England's Leicester Crown Court on Friday.

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Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://raphae.li/twitter

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