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Us raids warez servers across ten countries { April 23 2004 }

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Raids Shutter Online Piracy Sites

By David McGuire Staff Writer
Friday, April 23, 2004; 9:00 AM

U.S. and international law enforcement authorities on Wednesday conducted a series of raids against Web site operators suspected of distributing more than $50 million worth of pirated music, movies and software, a move the U.S. Justice Department described as the largest-ever crackdown on online piracy.

The Justice Department coordinated more than 120 searches in 10 countries and 27 U.S. states. "Operation Fastlink" targeted "warez" sites operated by sophisticated electronic pirates who specialize in securing and disseminating illegal copies of movies, music and computer programs.

Authorities took down the operators' Internet sites, seized their computers and collected evidence against more than 100 suspects. Authorities have not made any arrests, but expect to do so in the coming weeks, said Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra.

Justice officials would not say where the U.S. raids took place.

"Our efforts send a clear and unmistakable message to those individuals and organizations dedicated to online theft: Real world geography and virtual world cloaking can no longer protect those who steal copyrighted material," Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a press conference Thursday.

Robert Holleyman, president of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), said Operation Fastlink "is really going to take a significant dent out of some of the top-level piracy problem."

The U.S. software industry loses at least $13 billion a year to piracy, according to BSA estimates. The group, which represents some of the world's largest software companies, including Microsoft, Adobe and Autodesk, does not know how much money the industry has lost to online piracy.

Justice Department spokesman Sierra said that the raids were timed so that the different warez groups would be unable to alert each other and destroy evidence.

"In order to have the maximum impact you need to protect yourself against the fact that they can communicate instantly over the Internet," Sierra said.

Warez groups are ideal targets for law enforcement because they sit at the top of the electronic piracy food chain, said Mark Ishikawa, chief executive of Los Gatos Calif.-based BayTSP Inc., which tracks online piracy on behalf of copyright owners.

Some of the newest and hottest movies, music and software on peer-to-peer networks like Kazaa and Morpheus come from warez sites, Ishikawa said. "It goes from that network, which is a higher-end, more computer-literate network and from there it trickles into the peer-to-peers. Once it gets into the peer-to-peers there's no stopping it."

The Recording Industry Association of America blames file sharing for taking a major bite out of CD sales, which fell from a high of $13.2 billion in 2000 to $11.2 billion in 2003, a period that matches the growth of online music piracy services. File-sharing advocates counter that the flagging economy and rising CD prices are more to blame for driving down sales.

Eric Garland, chief executive of Atlanta-based BigChampagne LLC, a company that monitors peer-to-peer activity, said the crackdown could temporarily slow the flow of material to file-sharing networks, but would not have a big effect on the average song-swapper.

"Most of the titles people are swapping on Kazaa and its ilk are massively popular titles that will make their way onto these networks with or without the help of these organized groups," Garland said.

The crackdown reflects the Justice Department's push to tackle the piracy problem that American software, music and movie makers say is costing them billions of dollars a year in sales. "There has been a decision on the part of the Department of Justice to make these type of crimes a priority," Sierra said.

Congress is considering two bills that would give the Justice Department more power to fight Internet piracy. A House bill would allow federal prosecutors to seek jail time for Internet users who share more than 1,000 copyrighted files. A Senate bill would allow the department to prosecute civil copyright violations.

New York Congressman Anthony Weiner (D), who has criticized the Justice Department for failing to go after copyright crimes, said he hoped Operation Fastlink would not be an isolated case.

"This is the clearest and maybe the first sign that the DOJ is getting off the sidelines and trying to fight this battle," Weiner said. "This has to be an ongoing game of cat and mouse. We can't expect that today represents the end of this fight. It just represents one very good day for the cat."


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