Washington, D.C. - United States Attorney Roscoe C. Howard, Jr. and FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael A. Mason of the FBI’s Washington Field Office announced that Andre Pnewski, 20, of St. Paul, Minnesota, pleaded guilty yesterday before the Honorable Alan Kay, United States Magistrate Judge, to one count of Criminal Copyright Infringement, in violation of Title 17, U.S.C. § 506(a)(2) and Title 18, U.S.C. §2319(b)(3) for the illegal sales of motion pictures via the Internet. Following entry of the guilty plea, Pnewski was sentenced to 6 months of home detention with electronic bracelet monitoring, 4 years of probation, and restitution in the amount of $7,170.00, which Pnewski must pay to the Motion Picture Association of America. The court also signed a consent decree, which Pnewski signed as part of the plea agreement, for the forfeiture and destruction of computer equipment he had used to reproduce the motion pictures and numerous CD-Rs (recordable compact disks), on which he had recorded motion pictures, seized from his Minnesota residence pursuant to a search warrant obtained by the FBI.
The plea arose in connection with Pnewski’s sales of copies of motion pictures that were “pirated” CDs advertised on e-Bay and via e-mail addresses operated by Pnewski, the first such federal prosecution in the United States. According to information presented to the court by Assistant United States Attorney Sherri L. Schornstein, the motion pictures that were pirated included “The Hulk”; “The Matrix Reloaded”; and “The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers”. At the time of his arrest, Pnewski told FBI agents that he downloaded movies through a peer-to-peer software application known as eDonkey. He also stated that he had seen the FBI warning at the beginning of the movies, but never paid attention to it. He stated that he didn’t think it was wrong to sell the movies, he just wanted to make some money.
U.S. Attorney Howard stated that, “Intellectual property crimes such as this are nothing less than the theft of other people’s hard work, efforts, and artistic talents. These crimes have a negative impact on the music, motion picture, and software industries and we will aggressively prosecute these cases.”
According to information presented to the Court, Pnewski initially solicited prospective buyers through auction sites on eBay. Using the eBay user name, “Movieguyz,” he circumvented eBay’s abuse protections and signed up under different alias names. A buyer who posted a bid received an e-mail from Pnewski telling him or her not to bid and that the only way to get movies was to e-mail Pnewski directly at an e-mail address he provided. From approximately March 24, 2003 through August 13, 2003, Pnewski operated from the e-mail addresses “firstname.lastname@example.org@ and Aithasumixrd@yahoo.com” from which he offered for sale numerous CDs of motion pictures and from which an FBI undercover agent purchased 16 CDs from him for prices ranging from $19.00 to $55.00 per unit. The purchases were shipped to Washington, D.C. via the U.S. mail. The CDs were “pirated” copies of copyright- protected motion pictures, that is, copies made without the permission of the copyright owners. Other sales transacted by Pnewski were documented in the government’s investigation through records of the payment services Pnewski used, such as BidPay, PayCo, and his own bank records.
In announcing results of this prosecution, U.S. Attorney Howard and FBI Assistant Director in Charge Mason commended the work of FBI Special Agent Melissa S. Morrow and the staff of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Nicholas Novak, Auditor and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri L. Schornstein who prosecuted the case.