A Dorset man has been ordered to pay over £373,000 and given a suspended prison sentence following prosecution for the sale of illegal copies of vinyl records.
On 4 April 2023 at Bournemouth Crown Court, Richard Hutter (aged 55) of Matchams Close, St Leonards, Dorset, was sentenced having previously pleaded guilty to 13 offences under trademarks and copyright legislation and one offence of money laundering, contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Investigations began after a consumer bought an album online from Vinylgroove UK and complained to Dorset’s trading standards team after realising it was counterfeit. Officers test-purchased several more vinyl records and a representative of UK record labels association, the BPI (British Phonographic Industry), identified these and the complainant’s album as counterfeit. Trading standards officers’ investigation showed that the seller was Richard Hutter, who as well as operating his own website was selling counterfeit vinyl records on eBay and through an American website.
His home address was searched in July 2018 and a number of counterfeit records and sleeves were seized and well as his phone and laptop. When interviewed by trading standards Hutter said he bought his records from record fairs across Europe and that he did not know that they were counterfeit, but he had not made any checks. However, an examination of his phone showed conversations where he was trying to arrange for counterfeit vinyl to be made to pair with record sleeves from elsewhere. Images were also found on Hutter’s phone of him sitting in an office surrounded by vinyl.
While sentencing, Recorder Richard Tutt said that the matter was aggravated by Hutter involving his family after using his son’s and wife’s accounts to take payments from the sale of the vinyl and by the fact that the offending took place over a long period of time. He also said that it was mitigated by the fact Hutter immediately took down his websites and stopped selling when contacted by trading standards and had not offended since.
The Recorder found that Hutter had benefitted by £1.2 million and that the amount he now had available was £373,589 which he ordered be forfeited under the Proceeds of Crime Act. He also stated that Hutter would be sentenced to 3 years imprisonment if he did not pay this within 3 months.
Hutter’s defence counsel asked that he be given credit for an early guilty plea and said that he was remorseful and unlikely to reoffend.
Sentencing only for the money laundering offence, which he regarded as the most serious, the Recorder said that although the custody threshold had been crossed, he sentenced Hutter to 4 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years, 250 hours of unpaid work to be completed within 12 months and an electronically monitored curfew between 8 pm and 7 am for three months.
Cllr Laura Beddow, Dorset Council’s Portfolio Holder for Culture, Communities and Customer Services said: “The sale of counterfeit goods damages legitimate business, including local retailers selling genuine products and can confuse and mislead consumers. These items were being sold at usual prices for genuine vinyl records and consumers would have been misled by buying these. Our Trading Standards team will take action against sellers of counterfeit goods, including financial investigations to recover proceeds of their crime. The penalties can be substantial.”
Paola Monaldi, Head of the BPI’s Content Protection Unit, said: “Vinyl has seen an incredible comeback in the past few years, with around 5.5 million LPs purchased in the UK alone in 2022. Sadly, this renaissance has been accompanied by a disturbing rise in bootlegging and sales of unauthorised recordings. This is a serious crime that denies artists the rewards for their creativity, exploits fans, and impacts legitimate retail and the record labels that invest in music – but worse, it can feed into other forms of criminality that can impact us all. Over the last three years the BPI has delisted over 100,000 fake items from marketplace platforms and seized over 3 million counterfeit units across the UK – which underlines the scale of the problem.
“On behalf of the BPI and its members, I wish to thank Dorset Trading Standards and all the involved authorities for their valued efforts in closing down this criminal operation. We continue to work closely with online platforms and law enforcement agencies to uncover illicit operations and protect the interests of creators, consumers, and music outlets.”
To report concerns about the sale of counterfeit goods contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133 or visit their website. This is the first point of contact for all consumers on Trading Standards issues.