It took three years of legal wrangling with Australia, but the U.S. government finally got their man Tuesday.
Hew Raymond Griffiths, an alleged warez kingpin, appeared in a U.S. district court and was charged with conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and criminal copyright infringement.
If convicted on both counts, Griffiths could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Warez groups act as first providers of copyrighted works to Internet release groups. The release groups are the original sources for a majority of the pirated works distributed and downloaded via the Internet.
In an indictment originally issued in 2003, the Department of Justice (DoJ) claims the 44-year-old Griffiths was the head of an international software piracy ring known as DrinkorDie. Since the indictment was issued, Griffiths has been jailed in Australia, fighting extradition to the United States.
“Griffiths claimed to be beyond the reach of U.S. law, and today, we have proven otherwise,” Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher said in a statement. “This extradition represents the Department of Justice’s commitment to protect intellectual property rights from those who violate our laws from the other side of the globe.”
According to the DoJ, DrinkOrDie was founded in Russia in 1993 and expanded internationally throughout the 1990s. The DoJ and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement broke up the group in 2001, with more than 70 raids conducted in the U.S., United Kingdon, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Australia.
Dubbed Operation Buccaneer, the DoJ raids on DrinkorDie have so far resulted in 30 felony convictions and 10 convictions of foreign nationals overseas.
The DoJ claims Griffiths was a key leader of DrinkorDie, directing the illegal reproduction and distribution of more than $50 million worth of pirated software, movies and games. According to the indictment, Griffiths also held leadership roles in several other well-known warez groups, including Razor1911 and RiSC.
Members of DrinkorDie stockpiled illegal software on Internet computer storage sites around the world and used encryption and other sophisticated technological security measures to hide their activities. The DoJ claims Griffiths at one time controlled more than 20 of the top warez servers worldwide.
“The indictment charges that Griffiths was co-leader of DrinkOrDie, which was part of an underground online community that consisted of individuals and organized groups who used the Internet to engage in the large-scale, illegal distribution of copyright protected [materials],” Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Julie Myers said in a statement.