Law enforcement officials took a swing at international online piracy Thursday in what the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is characterizing as the largest multi-national effort ever directed at intellectual property theft.
No arrests were made but 120 search warrants were executed in 27 states and 10 foreign countries.
The raids hit groups that specialize in the distribution of pirated works including utility and application software, movies, music and games and resulted in the seizure of more than 200 computers. According to the DOJ, one of the storage and distribution servers seized in the United States contained 65,000 separate pirated titles.
“The purpose of the operation was search and seizure,” Brian Sierra, a DOJ spokesperson, told internetnews.com. “The normal process is now for our agents to sit down, see what we’ve got and work backwards from there.”
Dubbed Operation Fastlink, the sweep is the culmination of four undercover investigations simultaneously being conducted by the FBI’s Cyber Division and the DOJ’s Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section. Among the groups targeted by the operation include such well known groups such as Fairlight, Kalisto, Echelon, Class and Project X, all of which specialized in pirating computer games and music release groups such as APC.
The DOJ said approximately 100 people worldwide have been identified by the investigation to date, many of whom are high-level leaders of members of various international piracy organizations commonly known as “warez” release groups. Release groups are generally the original source for most of the pirated works traded or distributed online.
“One of the things that surprised us is that there is no typical way to them group them [warez dealers] into age categories or other stereotypical ways,” Sierra said.
Once a release group prepares a stolen work for distribution, the material is distributed to secure, top-level warez servers and made available to a select clientele. From there, the pirated works are further distributed throughout the world, ending up on public peer-to-peer file sharing networks.
The DOJ says the top warez groups are highly structured organizations with leadership positions that control day-to-day operations, recruit new members and manage the group’s various computer archive sites.
The DOJ hopes the raids will dismantle many of the international syndicates distributing pirated material.
“The amount of international coordination and cooperation in this effort is unprecedented and will send a clear and unmistakable message to those individuals and organizations dedicated to piracy that they will no longer be protected by geographic boundaries,” Attorney General Ashcroft said in a statement.
The DOJ also seized servers known as “elite” sites, which contain the most highly coveted and valuable new releases, many of which are distributed to the warez groups before they are commercially available to the public. The DOJ said “conservative estimates” of the value of the pirated works seized “easily exceed $50 million.”
Foreign searches were conducted in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The ongoing investigations were assisted by various intellectual property trade associations, including the Business Software Alliance, the Entertainment Software Association, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America.
“In the past 24 hours, working closely with our foreign law enforcement counterparts, we have moved aggressively to strike at the very core of the international online piracy world,” Ashcroft said in his statement.