RealTime IT News

DOJ Hits Warez Networks

WASHINGTON -- Federal agents took a strike at the international online piracy market today with 70 raids resulting in four arrests. At least eight major online distribution networks were dismantled, with seized pirated works estimated at $50 million.

The U.S. raids were coordinated with law enforcement officials in 10 other countries conducting similar operations. According to the Department of Justice (DoJ), the raids were all targeted at the Internet's "first providers" of pirated software, movies, music and games.

Commonly known as "warez" groups, the networks operate as the original sources for the majority of pirated works distributed and downloaded on the Internet. The stolen works frequently eventually filter down to peer-to-peer (P2P) networks and other public file-sharing networks.

"By dismantling these networks, the [DoJ] is striking at the top of the copyright piracy supply chain -- a distribution chain that provides the vast majority of the illegal digital content now available online," Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzalez said at a Washington press conference.

In addition to filtering down to P2P networks, warez groups often are the primary source for the for-profit criminal distribution networks of DVDs and CDs since the digital files can be easily converted to optical disks.

"By penetrating this illegal world of high technology and intellectual property theft, we have shown that law enforcement can and will find -- and we will prosecute -- those who try to use the Internet to create piracy networks beyond the reach of law enforcement," Gonzales said.

Gonzales said the four unidentified persons arrested Thursday will be charged with criminal copyright theft. The maximum penalties for a first-time offender are five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and restitution to the victims.

Raids were also conducted in Canada, Israel, France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, Portugal and Australia. Acting Assistant Attorney General John C. Richter said he anticipated further arrests both here and abroad as the investigation unfolds.

Known as Operation Site Down, the operation is the latest in a series of DoJ strikes against illegal distribution of copyrighted works over the Internet. Last summer, the DoJ launched its first ever criminal enforcement action against P2P networks.

Search warrants were executed in Texas, New York and Wisconsin, and federal agents seized computers, software and computer-related equipment in the raids.

According to the DoJ, the five targeted networks required users to share a minimum of 1 to 100 gigabytes of computer files with other users on the network.

By January, William R. Towbridge, 50, of Johnson City, N.Y., and Michael Chicoine, 47, of San Antonio each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit felony criminal copyright infringement.

"We will find and dismantle large-scale criminal enterprises," Gonzales said Thursday.