Software piracy rings cracked in two-year federal probe

A two-year federal investigation into international software piracy over the internet culminated yesterday in the serving of more than 100 search warrants against suspects allegedly involved in piracy syndicates.

          A two-year federal investigation into international software piracy over the internet culminated last week in the serving of more than 100 search warrants against suspects allegedly involved in piracy syndicates.

          In an announcement, the US Department of Justice says three separate federal investigations over the past two years had targeted international groups that illegally distributed pirated software, games and movies, as well as individuals and groups who had illegal access to computer systems and distribution networks.

          "Today, US law enforcement initiated the most aggressive enforcement action to date against illegal software piracy," says Attorney General John Ashcroft, in the statement. "Many of these individuals and groups believed the digital age and the internet allowed them to operate without fear of detection or criminal sanction. Today, law enforcement in the US and around the world proved them wrong."

          The targets of the three operations included both individuals and organisations known as "Warez" groups that operate in the US and around the world. Warez groups specialise in the illegal distribution over the internet of copyrighted software programs, computer games and movies. Additional suspects are expected to be identified and targeted, the government says.

          Bob Kruger, vice president of enforcement for the Business Software Alliance, a Washington-based antipiracy industry watchdog group, says the federal actions marked a "banner day" in the fight against software theft.

          "We do view this as probably the most extensive and aggressive law enforcement actions to date against software piracy," Kruger says.

          The three operations were as follows:

          • Operation Buccaneer, a one-year investigation by the US Customs Service and the Justice Department's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property section, working in conjunction with the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Buccaneer involved the simultaneous execution of 58 search warrants against high-level Warez leadership and members around the world. Included in the targets is the piracy group called DrinkOrDie, which is made up of about 40 members worldwide. The groups decode antipiracy measures in the software and release it on the internet before or at the time of a new product's launch, causing losses for software companies. The US worked with authorities in the UK, Australia, Norway and Finland in the investigation.

          • Operation Bandwidth, a two-year effort to identify and prosecute groups and individuals involved with illegal access to computer systems and the piracy of proprietary software using Warez storage sites on the internet. The investigation involved the Defence Criminal Investigative Service, the Environmental Protection Agency Office of the Inspector General and the FBI. The groups, along with the Nevada US Attorney's Office, created an undercover Warez site as part of its investigation, which was used to transfer more than 100,000 pirated files, including more than 12,000 separate software programs, movies and games. More than 200 suspects participated in the piracy efforts at the undercover site. Thousands of copies of pirated software will be removed from circulation because of the sting, as well as computer hardware seized by authorities.

          • Operation Digital Piratez, a yearlong effort by the FBI and the New Hampshire US Attorney's Office to infiltrate several Warez distribution organisations, including "cracking groups" specifically created for the purpose of pirating software so that it may be distributed over the Internet in violation of US copyright laws.

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Tags software piracy

More about Business Software AllianceDepartment of JusticeEnvironmental Protection AgencyFBIUS Department of Justice

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