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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Attorney General John Ashcroft, Assistant Attorney General Christopher A. Wray, and U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Kenneth L. Wainstein today announced the first federal enforcement action taken against criminal copyright piracy on peer-to-peer networks. Early this morning, federal agents executed six search warrants at five residences and one Internet service provider in Texas, New York, and Wisconsin, as part of an investigation into the illegal distribution of copyrighted movies, software, games, and music over peer-to-peer networks. Agents seized computers, software, and computer-related equipment in the searches.

“Today’s actions send an important message to those who steal over the Internet. When online thieves illegally distribute copyrighted programs and products, they put the livelihoods of millions of hard-working Americans at risk and damage our economy,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft. “The execution of today’s warrants disrupted an extensive peer-to-peer network suspected of enabling users to traffic illegally in music, films, software and published works. The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing intellectual property laws, and we will pursue those who steal copyrighted materials even when they try to hide behind the false anonymity of peer-to-peer networks.”

“Today’s enforcement action is the latest step in our ongoing effort to combat piracy occurring on the Internet,” said Christopher A. Wray, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. “This is the first federal law enforcement action against criminal copyright infringement using peer-to-peer networks and shows that we are committed to combating piracy, regardless of the medium used to commit these illegal acts.”

“Today we are sending a clear message that federal law enforcement takes piracy seriously,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein. “It is illegal to trade in copyright-protected materials on the Internet. This is theft, plain and simple. If you are engaged in this behavior, you are on notice that you are not as anonymous as you may think.”

The search warrants executed today are the result of Operation Digital Gridlock, a joint investigation conducted by the FBI, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and the Justice Department’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section. This operation targeted illegal file sharing of copyrighted materials over five Direct Connect peer-to-peer networks that belonged to a group known as The Underground Network. According to search warrant affidavits unsealed today, these networks required users to share a minimum of one to 100 gigabytes of computer files with other users on the network. Upon becoming a member of one of these peer-to-peer networks, each user could then download shared files from the hard drives of all other members on the network. Theft through the illegal reproduction and distribution of movies, software, games, and music is estimated to cost U.S. industries $19 billion worldwide each year.

The maximum penalty for criminal copyright infringement in violation of Title 17, United States Code, Section 506 and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2319, for a first-time offender is five years incarceration and a fine of $250,000. Title 17, United States Code, Section 506, also provides for the forfeiture and destruction of infringing copies and all equipment-including the computer equipment-used in the manufacture of the pirated materials.

The investigation in this case is ongoing.