A two-year U.S. 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.
In an announcement, the U.S. Department of Justice said 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, U.S. law enforcement initiated the most aggressive enforcement action to date against illegal software piracy," said 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 U.S. and around the world proved them wrong."
The targets of the three operations included both individuals and organizations known as "Warez" groups that operate in the U.S. and around the world. Warez groups specialize 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 said.
Bob Kruger, vice-president of enforcement for the Business Software Alliance, a Washington-based antipiracy industry watchdog group, said 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 said.
The three operations were as follows:
- Operation Buccaneer, a one-year investigation by the U.S. Customs Service and the Justice Department's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property section, working in conjunction with the U.S. 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 U.S. worked with authorities in the U.K., 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 Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Environmental Protection Agency Office of the Inspector General and the FBI. The groups, along with the Nevada U.S. 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.