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Feds Nab Pirated Movies, Software

12 Dec, 2001 By: Hive News

The U.S. Customs Service turned up digital copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Monsters, Inc. and other movies still in theatrical release Tuesday as it executed 37 search warrants in 27 U.S. cities in an effort to squash what agency spokespersons called into a global network of cyberspace gangs responsible for pirating billions of dollars worth of software over the Internet."

Under the banner Operation Buccaneer, Customs agents raided such prestigious universities as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Purdue and Duke. The search also extended to a number of private homes and businesses.

Authorities said the computers and networks were found to contain thousands of copies of pirated business software, including the code for Sony PlayStation and Nintendo games and digitized versions of other recent films including Behind Enemy Lines and Spy Game.

Customs officials were quick to point out that while computer hardware used to distribute stolen software is often secretly operated from computers at major universities and technology businesses, the colleges and universities themselves are not involved in the scheme and are cooperating with Customs in finding and seizing the pirates' archive sites at their respective locations.

Authorities in five foreign nations simultaneously executed another 19 search warrants and arrested four individuals in connection with the case. The actions were "closely coordinated with authorities in Australia, England, Sweden Finland and Norway, authorities said.

"The software pirated by these groups included expensive business software, firewall and other security software, and copyrighted games, music and digital videos. Operation Buccaneer is the first federal investigation of Internet software piracy to reach across international borders," a Customs spokesperson said.

The piracy networks grew out of groups of computer hackers working in underground networks in the early ‘90s, organized into competitive gangs to illegally obtain computer software, games and movies for posting on the Internet for illegal distribution, customs officials believe. The underground network became known as the WAREZ community.

Operation Buccaneer targeted the WAREZ community, which allegedly engages in the duplication and reproduction of copyrighted software over the Internet. Customs officials estimate the WAREZ community is responsible for nearly 90 percent of the Internet sites that offer pirated software.

The initial phase of the investigation focused primarily on the WAREZ group DrinkOrDie, one of eight to 10 major Internet piracy groups and the oldest and best known in the WAREZ community.

The investigation thus far indicates that WAREZ members include corporate executives, computer network administrators and students at major universities, government workers and employees of large-scale technology and computer firms.

The leading WAREZ groups compete against each other to attain the reputation as the fastest, highest quality free provider of pirated computer software and media. They act as the primary supplier for web sites that allow users to download pirated software for a monthly subscription fee. Members of WAREZ supply pirated software to Web sites and others, who then reproduce and distribute it for profit. WAREZ members rip off or "crack" software—not for profit, but rather for the challenge and fun of it.

Those apprehended may be subject to charges of conspiracy to violate Criminal Copyright Infringement laws and theNo Electronic Theft ("Net") Act concerning the illegal reproduction and distribution of copyrighted software. The investigation is ongoing.

The enforcement actions mark the first overt phase of a 15-month undercover investigation by the U.S. Customs Special Agent-in-Charge Office in Baltimore, Maryland; the U.S. Customs Cybersmuggling Center (C3) in Virginia; and the Justice Department's Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) in Washington, D.C.

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