Agents crack down on major international software piracy ring

Wednesday, December 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Authorities in 27 U.S. cities and five countries have seized computers and arrested five people in a long-running undercover operation into an international software piracy ring.

U.S. officials said the suspects stole and distributed all types of media, including Microsoft Windows operating systems, computer games and high-quality copies of new movies like ``Harry Potter'' and ``Monsters, Inc.''

The software industry says it loses an estimated $12 billion per year due to piracy.

``Software piracy undermines the stability of the burgeoning e-commerce industry and it is a direct threat to innovative companies that help strengthen the U.S. economy,'' Deputy Treasury Secretary Kenneth Dam said.

The investigation, dubbed ``Operation Buccaneer,'' has gone on since December 2000, officials said. It has targeted 62 people in Australia, Finland, England, Norway and the United States. The agents said they have leads in 20 other countries.

Investigators served 56 search warrants, starting Tuesday morning, and expect to grab about 130 computers filled with illegal copies of computer software, music and movies.

``This is not a sport,'' Commerce Undersecretary Phil Bond said. ``This is a serious crime. These people should do some hard time.''

While no one has been arrested yet in the United States, officials said police in England have five people in custody. Some in the United States are cooperating with police, agents said.

The suspects include corporate executives, employees and students of major universities like Duke and Purdue, technology company employees and some government workers, the agents said. They alleged that some of the most critical members are insiders who steal products from their own companies and hand it over to the pirates.

``Our targets are not your stereotypical teen-age hacker,'' Customs Service Assistant Commissioner John Varrone said.

All will face federal copyright infringement charges, officials said.

Customs agent Allan Doody said each computer has between one to two terabytes of stolen software. A terabyte is equal to a thousand gigabytes. A printed directory on just one computer would span 4,200 pages.

In Operation Buccaneer, officials targeted one of the oldest pirate rings _ known as ``warez'' groups _ called ``DrinkOrDie.'' Founded in Moscow in 1993, DrinkOrDie became famous among software hackers for claiming it released a copy of Microsoft Windows 95 two weeks before Microsoft began selling it.

``They are a notorious elite Internet pirate organization,'' said Bob Kruger of the Business Software Alliance, an industry trade group. ``I doubt there's much that's out there that people want that (DrinkOrDie) can't provide.''

DrinkOrDie has two leaders, one in the United States and another in Australia, officials said. There are 1500 warez members nationwide, officials estimate, and eight to 10 major groups.

Doody called ``ForceKill,'' one of the alleged members of DrinkOrDie, ``one of the premier software crackers in the world.''

The highly organized process of eliminating copy-protection schemes, compressing and distributing software takes no more than three days to complete with most products.

``There is currently nothing that the software industry as done in terms of copy protecting their programs that has not been defeated by DrinkOrDie,'' Doody said.