A grand jury in the USA has indicted five people allegedly involved with video download site NinjaVideo.net on conspiracy and copyright infringement charges, the US Department of Justice have announced.

The five people are charged with one count of conspiracy and five counts of criminal copyright infringement for their alleged participation in the site, which allowed visitors to download television programmes and movies still playing in theatres or not yet released, the DOJ said. NinjaVideo, which operated from February 2008 until law enforcement officials shut it down in June 2010, allegedly provided millions of visitors with infringing copies of movies and TV shows.

Owners make more than half a million dollars

The website offered many movies and TV shows free of charge, with visitors gaining access to a larger selection of movies, digital comic books and software for a "donation" of $25, the DOJ said revealed. Paying customers could request content to be included on NinjaVideo, according to the indictment.

The website also generated "significant" revenue through advertising, the DOJ said. The defendants allegedly collected more than $500,000 during the two-and-a-half-year life of the website.

During the last week in June 2010, just before federal agents shut down the website, NinjaVideo transmitted more than 940,000 movies and TV shows to its customers.

Users watched unreleased material

An undercover agent from Homeland Security Investigations' National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center downloaded 44 movies from NinjaVideo between December 2009 and June 2010. One of the movies had not yet been released in US theatres, and 40 of the movies had been in theatres, but had not yet been released on DVD.

The indictment, returned last week in US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, charges Hana Amal Beshara, 29, of North Brunswick, New Jersey, and Matthew David Howard Smith, 23, of Raleigh, North Carolina, identified in the indictment as founders and administrators of NinjaVideo. Also charged were Joshua David Evans, 34, of North Bend, Washington, and Zoi Mertzanis, 36, a resident of Greece, alleged to be two of the most active uploaders of material to the site, and Jeremy Lynn Andrew, 33, of Eugene, Oregon, the alleged head of security for the website.

The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned on September 16.